family fun

Family Traditions: Celebrating Day of the Dead

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One of my family’s favorite traditions is celebrating the Mexican Holiday el Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead. We cook a special dinner to celebrate and honor our loved ones who have passed on, like Grandpa or even our pets. In other words, we throw them a party. We make their favorite foods, display photos of those we love, and share funny stories to help keep their memories alive. The kids love it. And, of course, we decorate with fabulous bright colors, candy skulls, and have tons of food where we eat, eat, eat. Let’s not forget that.

Celebrated November 1 – 2, in many Latin American countries, the Holiday remembers and honors loved ones who have passed away. In Mexico, where I was introduced to the Holiday, people would either head to the cemeteries or have a party in their homes to celebrate. Sounds odd, right? But here’s the thing. The Mexican culture embraces death as just another aspect of life. It is not to be feared. And even when you are gone, you are not truly gone if someone remembers you.

I came to love this Holiday when my family moved to Mexico City for a number of years.  My father worked for a company that transferred us and during my first October in Mexico City, I got to see a beautiful transformation in the city. All of sudden every little store and street vendor had candy skulls for sale. The paper stores started displaying the colorful papel picado – or cut out tissue paper “flags” that show elaborately dressed skeletons enjoying various daily scenes of life. The fresh flower stalls suddenly had tons of yellow marigolds in stock and elaborate floral arrangements on display. Stores had little Day of the Dead shrines or altars set up to show you how to build your own. These “altars” are not for worshipping, they are colorful, fun, physical reminder of the people you miss.

Here in the U.S., we tend to silently mourn for our dead loved ones. Once the funeral is over, the grieving and remembrance becomes a private affair. But, on el Dia de los Muertos in Mexico, you throw one heck of a party for your deceased loved ones. You serve their favorite food, maybe play their favorite music. Your Day of the Dead shrine has pictures of your loved ones and other objects that represent what they loved most in life. It is a way to remember and celebrate their life. It is thought that the spirits of your dead loved ones come and share in this party. Whether you believe that or not, Day of the Dead is a great way to remember the special moments you had with someone special who is gone. I want someone to throw me a party when I am gone!

So, why is this such an important family tradition in our house? It’s a great opportunity to talk about death in a positive way. Our loved ones may be gone, but they are still with us in spirit. It makes death less scary for the kids. We spend time around the table laughing and remembering who we miss. It’s a great way to teach our kids what Grandpa was like, since he passed away before they were born. We spend time together as a family making the Day of the Dead altar and picking the right photos to use. But most importantly, we have fun. “Don’t fear dying, fear not having lived.”

For more information on the Day of the Dead Holiday and tips on how to start this family tradition in your house, check out my blog,

How will you celebrate Day of the Dead this year? Whose life will you be celebrating during this yearly tradition?

Sue Kirchner is the founder of e-boutique and blog, both sites designed to inspire and help busy families have more fun, so they can have more ‘Chocolate Cake Moments’ – when they are smiling, relaxed, and enjoying their family time. Sue and her family fun ideas have been featured on ABC Chicago, WGN TV, and NBC Chicago. When she’s not working, she is CFO (Chief Fun Officer) for her family.

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Jen Tilley


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