Day of the Dead altar

Día de los Muertos altar helps students and others celebrate holiday, remember loved ones

Spanish faculty members have worked to create an altar for the celebration of Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, outside the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures.

The altar allows both heritage speakers of Spanish and those learning it as a second language to participate in a beloved tradition while also providing a new way to help connect students this semester, said Carmen Fernández-Flórez, assistant professor of Spanish.

The holiday started Nov. 1 and ends Nov. 2.

Carmen Fernández-Flórez, assistant professor of Spanish, with students at the altar.
Carmen Fernández-Flórez, assistant professor of Spanish, stands with students at the Día de los Muertos altar.

Fernández-Flórez and Sarah Mather, senior affiliate professor of Spanish, both worked with students to contribute the colorful skulls, photos and other remembrances that are part of the celebration.

Fernández-Flórez emphasized that the tradition is separate from Halloween. She said Day of the Dead is sometimes wrongly referred to as the Mexican version of Halloween. 

The effort this year with creating the altar can help people understand that distinction, she said. The Grand Rapids Public Library also provided materials such as tissue paper and cutouts.

Rather than the scary themes of Halloween, for Day of the Dead the skulls can be made of sugar and are smiling, Fernández-Flórez said.

"It's a holiday to remember and share with their loved ones," she said.

The altar and its offerings
The holiday is a way to honor and remember loved ones.
Tissue-paper marigolds
Marigolds are a special part of the celebration.

The offerings created for the altar are a way to honor and connect with departed family members. Marigolds are also an important part of the tradition, Fernández-Flórez said.

"Marigolds are believed to illuminate the path to the other life, because marigolds are bright and the beautiful scent attracts departed souls," she said.

Plans call for the altar to remain in that spot until November 4, allowing people more time to decorate a skull and leave a note for a departed loved one.


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