Día de los Muertos is not an aesthetic

Illustration by Christian Ayala

Día de los Muertos is a sentimental tradition among people of Latinx heritage. It is when families remember those who have died and all the things they did in their lives.

With the release of movies like Disney’s “Coco” and “The Book of Life,” the holiday has recently become more mainstream.

Craft stores profit from the public’s fascination with this cultural tradition. There are decorations for sale on their websites and in stores related to the holiday.

This wouldn’t be an issue if all facets of the holiday were broadcast and if these companies weren’t whitewashing the holiday to make it about bright colors and slapping a skull on every item they sell. Not to mention, the decorations sold at these craft stores are cheaply made and have been on sale long before the holiday.

Now don’t get me wrong, “Coco” and “The Book of Life” were wonderful movies that honored a chunk of what the holiday encompasses. These movies are not the issue at hand. In fact, I believe it’s wonderful that Disney is presenting a character and culture that is not predominantly European. There may not be a Hispanic Disney princess movie yet, but that is another issue entirely.

It is the companies that seem to believe they can market an entire culture’s suddenly popularized traditions and sell them to people who think seeing one of these movies inducts them into a tradition that’s been celebrated for centuries that are the problem.

The people who buy these decorations and go on to celebrate the holiday without knowing its meaning contribute to this mass-produced and advertised cultural appropriation.

Much like the United States has its own holidays, such as Thanksgiving and Halloween, Día de los Muertos is reserved for the Latinx people who choose to partake in it.

That being said, the details of the holiday and culture are exceptionally sentimental to all who celebrate it. It is wrong for non-Hispanic Americans to steal yet another thing just to profit from a movie they may have liked. The holiday is purely based on the love and importance of family, not aesthetics.

There are ways to respectfully enjoy and understand the holiday without offending people who genuinely celebrate it. In order to understand the customs practiced in the holiday, one must understand the background.

Día de los Muertos, also known as Día de los Angelitos, traditions vary regionally.

Ofrendas, as depicted in “Coco,” are altars with offerings most commonly seen at cemeteries where deceased loved ones lie. The idea is to honor and comfortably welcome family members during their short visits to the living world. Ofrendas often have tasty food, beverages, books and even clothes relatives used to wear.

It’s quite the sight to see: cemeteries filled with candles and homemade decorations.

Festivals and clothing are also central parts of the holiday. Entire communities come together dressed in traditional guayaberas and colorful maxi dresses to celebrate the lives of those who have died. For women, dressing like a catrina means going bold with color and unique floral headdresses.

Marigold petals are used to guide deceased family members to reunion with their living families. They give off a pleasant, comforting and sweet scent, which gives the whole night a magical ambiance.

Sugar skulls are typically made of chocolate and are specifically crafted to represent specific people, with the names of relatives written on them. These are especially important, as the water and sugar-based treats represent the fusion of pre-Hispanic culture and the Spanish custom of sculpture.

Día de los Muertos is so much more than cheaply made sparkly decorations sold at 50% off in a craft store. It’s about celebrating the life of those who have died, rather than mourning the dead. It’s a night of reunion, remembering and reliving moments that may have otherwise faded away with time.