In the small community that is New Haven, not many families celebrate Día de los Muertos, but the Ribera, Rivera, and Alvarez families do. Since they don’t go to big Day of the Dead festivals or parades, their families have small gatherings in their homes.
All over Guatemala, Brazil, Spain, central and southern Mexico, and now to the United States, many people celebrate Día de los Muertos, which means Day of the Dead. This is a Mexican holiday which is celebrated by family and friends coming together to pray and remember the loved ones who have passed away. Many believe it helps support the spiritual journey of those who have died. In many places in Mexico, Día de los Muertos can also be celebrated by having huge festivals and parades with people dressed in traditional outfits with their faces painted into beautiful, colorful skulls.
In many families, they celebrate Día de los Muertos on different days. Some celebrate it on October 31 or November 1 at midnight, a time at which people believe the heavens’ gates will open so that the children who have passed away can reconnect with their loved ones. However, November 1 or November 2 is the night many people believe that deceased adults can come and reunite with their loved ones and see the festivals and parades people have prepared for them.
A famous candy that has spread all over the nation are calaveras de azúcar, or sugar skulls. Sugar skulls were often used to decorate the homes or even gravestones of those who had died. The skulls would have the person’s name on the forehead to honor that specific spirit as it returned home.
When she was a little girl in Mexico, Sandra Ribera, mother of Diana Ribera, said this about the sugar skulls, “I used to eat the sugar skulls when I was a little girl with my cousins, sisters, and brothers. When we ate the food, the flavor of the fruit, bread, and candy would taste different, as if the deceased spirit took the flavor away from the food.”
What the families do is light candles for each deceased relative or friend, so the light can guide the spirits on their journey no matter where they go. Also, the families put pictures of those who have died next to a cup of water-- one for each person-- for the spirits to drink when they’re thirsty. The families then lay out the person's favorite foods, Mexican bread, fruits, or candies for their spirit to enjoy. If there are multiple plates then you have to explain which one is which. Every returning spirit also receives a specific flower that is called a marigold flower, which represents despair and grief as well as the remembrance and celebration of the dead.
Sandra Ribera was quoted on how she felt about Day of the Dead, and this was her response, “I feel sad about the holiday but also happy. I feel happy because we get to believe that our deceased loved one gets to come home and be with us for that day. I feel sad because our deceased loved ones aren’t here with us, especially for the little kids.”