Author: Daniel Wojcik and Robert Dobler

What Ancient Cultures Teach us About Grief, Mourning and Continuity of Life

At this time of the year, Mexican and Mexican-American communities observe “Día de los Muertos” (the Day of the Dead), a three-day celebration that welcomes the dead temporarily back into families. Festivities begin on the evening of Oct. 31 and culminate on Nov. 2. Spirits of the departed are believed to be able to reenter the world of the living for a few brief moments during these days. Altars are created in homes, where photographs and other personal items evocative of the dead are placed. Offerings to the deceased include flowers, incense, images of saints, crucifixes and favorite foods. Family members gather in cemeteries to dine not just among the dead but with them. Similar traditions exist in different cultures with different origins. As scholars of death and mourning rituals, we believe that Día de los Muertos traditions are most likely connected to feasts observed by the ancient Aztecs. Today, they honor the memory of the dead and celebrate the continuity of generations through loving reunion with those who came before. As Western societies, particularly …