Life and death celebrated on Dia de los Muertos

Abelina Nuñez
Social Media Editor

Elena Cardeña, senior learning and development specialist and San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, spoke about the origins and meaning of Dia De Los Muertos on Wednesday via Zoom with 18 online participants.

“For some people, the celebration of Day of the Dead may seem really strange to them, like why are you celebrating death, but we really are not celebrating death so much as celebrating life,” Cardeña said. “Life that we believe continues on in a different form beyond the door of death.”

Cardeña said that death is a great equalizer in some ways that makes us all equal in the end and that the concept of death originated in Mesoamerica. From the Mexican Revolution of 1910, it has become more practiced by non-native groups and more in the city.

She also said the Mayans had a 20-day month called Tzec, where they celebrated and expected the dead, which corresponded with the Maya New Year.

“We also know that for the Aztecs and the Mexicans who lived in central Mexico at the time of the conquest, they actually had a longer season,” Cardeña said. “They had 20 days in what corresponds now to July for those dedicated to children who had died, and then they had 20 days, dedicated to adults who died in August.”

The season of the dead was originally in July and August but was moved to November after the Conquest because of the Catholic holiday of all saints and all souls.

All Saints day was originally on Nov. 1 in the 8th century but is now on Nov. 2. Halloween was a day before All Saints Day, and Halloween means all hallows, or saints, day.

“Summer was the time of light, and winter was the time of darkness,” Cardeña said. “So Oct. 31 was the mark at which they moved into the time of darkness, and this was a time in which the spirits would visit.”

She said the spirits would be able to come into the world from the spirit world, which is called the thin place, where the vail from here and now would disappear, and either the living or the dead would be able to cross over.

“When I was growing up, the altar was very Catholic, and so we set up the altar pictures of our grandparents, flowers, food, and then the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Virgen de Guadalupe, and we did the Rosary on November 1, and that was it,” Cardeña said. “My mom would set everything out, we do the Rosary, and then we would eat whatever we had put on the altar the next day.”

Cardena said the four things you want to add to the ofrenda are the four elements: air, fire, earth, and water.

The candles will represent fire, papel picado or copal, or incense, represent air since the air will move and pick up the smoke. The salt will represent the Earth, and a glass of water will represent water.

“I would say do it reverentially, do it in a way that meets and matches your style, your own culture, your own, whatever, but if you want to do a practice of Day of the Dead, I think that it’s okay,” Cardeña said.

“Maybe there are other people who feel differently, but I feel that it’s okay to have a date, in which you know we do this.”

At the end of the lecture, participants could comment in the chatbox about their thoughts about the event.

Daniel Loera, director of multicultural affairs center for multicultural services, said that he learned a lot during the presentation and that he felt like he was back in the classroom.

“Dia De Los Muertos is a time when family and friends not only remember their deceased relatives and friends but also honor them and prepare their visitation,” Loera said.

Ana Flores, junior political science major, commented, “I always believed this was an Aztec holiday but here she presented a wonderful narrative of all MesoAmerican indigenous groups influencing practices used for this annual cultural event.”

Abelina Nuñez can be reached at

Abelina J. Nuñez, senior journalism major, is a photography editor for Campus Times and staff photographer for La Verne Magazine. She previously served as LV Life editor, arts editor social media editor and staff writer. In Fall 2023, Nuñez was La Verne Magazine's editor-in-chief and was previously a staff writer as well. Her work can be found on Instagram @abelinajnunezphoto.

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