In Honor of our Grandmother, Jesusita

What is Día de los Muertos or the Day of the Dead? Día de los Muertos is a time to honor and celebrate deceased loved ones. The celebration occurs on November 2 in connection with All Soul’s Day. Unlike Halloween, which is characterized by goblins, witches, and the occult, Día de los Muertos, was initially celebrated by the Aztecs to honor the memory of the dead. This 3,000-year-old Aztec ritual fell on the ninth month of the Aztec Solar Calendar, which is the beginning of August and celebrated for a whole month. The “Lady of the Dead” or goddess Mictecacihuatl died at birth, but believed it was her spirit who officiated the celebration.

Growing up along the border in El Paso, Texas, a small town separating the United States and Mexico, we grew up with the Mexican and American cultures intertwined. As kids we traveled in and out of two worlds daily. The moment we left our casitas to go to school we entered an American world but at home we had our own language, cultures, and traditions. In the meantime, some of our Mexican culture was watered down or lost in translation. As a mother of two beautiful children my hope is to keep some of the Mexican traditions alive, but it’s taken some education on my part to consciously understand the differences. Halloween and Día de Los Muertos is a HUGE example of how our two worlds melted together, however, these two holidays are quite different.

My grandmother, Maria Jesusita at a young age, emigrated from Chihuahua, Mexico. She tried to assimilate to her new country and did not always celebrate the old customs. As a result, this is not a holiday I celebrated. I heard about it, but never took part. At the beginning of October, while working on a fall recipe I stumbled upon an article about Día de los Muertos and realized instantly that this was the perfect way to honor our grandmother. She was the matriarch of our family and now that she has passed I want to honor her on Día de los Muertos.

The kitchen is where my grandmother spent countless hours preparing meals to feed her family and where she spent just as much time sipping coffee and praying the rosary. If she wasn’t at church or cooking, she was nourishing her soul with long prayers to heal her family or strengthen the weak. Although my sister and I live in two different states, she in Colorado and I in California we have agreed to introduce this holiday and tradition to our respective husbands and children. No year like the present to begin anew. We are both thrilled to educate our children about traditions that are part of our culture.

This is my first attempt at celebrating Día de los Muertos, so I will start small. I will create a temporary altar in a small corner of my dining room. According to tradition, an altar usually has candles, photographs of the deceased, flowers (usually marigolds), drinks and food. The belief is that visiting souls may be hungry from their long journey and the food and drink is nourishment for their journey back. This day is filled with eating, drinking, and telling stories of those being honored. I hope to retell memories of our grandmother to our children and reminisce in the times we shared with her. My hope is to keep the memory of her alive for both my children and me.

My sister Yvette, with the assistance of a florist, model, makeup artist, and professional photographer created a breathtakingly beautiful altar. The altar here is filled with flowers, my grandmother’s rolling pin, some of her favorite food, photographs of her, and the grandfather we never knew. The woman dressed as death, wearing my grandmother’s veil and rosary, represents the return of her spirit. Some Native Americans believe that the wolf is a teacher and imparts a sense of family and loyalty. The wolf is an excellent representation of our love of family and loyalty to our grandmother.

Following is a simple plan if you want to take part in celebrating this holiday:

  • Create an altar with lots of bright marigold flowers or flowers in season
  • Place photographs of your deceased loved ones on an altar
  • Prepare food and drink that remind you of them
  • Place candles on the altar to be lit during your celebration
  • Play their favorite music
  • Retell stories of the deceased to those in attendance

Halloween has played a fun part in our families but now I am excited to introduce Día de los Muertos on November 2 to our families. It will be a beautiful way to honor our grandmother. The frightful visions we have of death shouldn’t be so morbid, they can in fact be, pleasant and joyful.

“It’s not death we should fear, but not having lived.” Anonymous

This article was also featured on Mexconnect
Photographer: Jeanine Thurston
Model: Rachel Vigil
MUA: Brandy Rich
Flowers: Julia Kaaren
Styling: Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack
Written by: Veronica Gonzalez-Smith
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  1. This is amazing! I first heard about this celebration a year after my dad passed away, 2 years ago. The details that went into the photographs are so beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Vee, that was incredible. The pictures are even more amazing than you were describing them and I love the wolf!!!! This makes me want to celebrate Dia de los Muertos.

    • Dia de los Muertos has no boundaries, religious or cultural…I think we all have an innate desire to keep the memory of those we love alive for future generations…let me know how it turns out if you choose to celebrate it too.

  3. These are stunning photos! They let me see Día de los Muertos from a different perspective.

    We can learn a lot from how Mexican’s view Día de los Muertos, with less fear and more reverence.


  4. Leticia Huddleston Reply

    Veronica the first time I learned about Dia De Los Muertos was when I went on a field trip to Olvera Street with the kids. I have a different perspective on this.The photos are incredible.What a beautiful way to honor and keep your grandmother’s memory a live! thank you for sharing this.

    • Leticia, thanks. I’m looking forward to the event with my kids. We started baking today and the kids are having a blast. It’s very emotional to share with them my beautiful memories of the grandmother they don’t remember.

  5. What a beautiful and inspiring blog entry – thanks for sharing! I’m going to make an altar for my deceased Abuelita too – I really miss her and it would be lovely to feel a connection with her again. 🙂

    • Hi Patty,
      I’m happy to hear you loved our post. Tonight we are kicking off the evening stories and prayers and filling up my grandma’s cup with HOT coffee. She loved her coffee. Keep us posted on your altar. We’d love to see pictures of it.

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  7. im so glad i found this blog. amazing entry! i’m glad i was part of day of the dead in houston with my family. my mom and i made enchiladas potosinas with homemade cheese. the photos were beautiful!

  8. Gabriela, linda la ofrenda a Jesusita. Interesante el sincretismo que haces con Halloween. Felicidades

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  10. What a beautiful post. I completely relate to what you write here about the importance of hanging on to cultural traditions. It’s something I’m also doing with my children (who are now old enough to appreciate it) and husband this year. Now that I have kids I feel more intent on keeping alive ties to culture. This is such a special, beautiful way to introduce our kids to their abuelitos, but also a way to make death a little less scary, I think.

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  12. I forget how I even came across your website but every time I visit it I am happy I found it and appreciate the opportunities you present to re-connect with my culture & heritage. Reading this gave me goosebumps, we lost our Nana 3 years ago in July. We do gather at her grave Dia de Los Muertos but I fail to prepare an altar in my home, now I won’t, thank you. So this posting celebrating your Nana was extra special to me. Then, I read your sister is in Colorado. Mine is too! And I am in California. We too are always in contact to stay on the same page w/old family traditions & creating new ones of our own. Quite a coincidence right? When I got to the bottom to read the comments, I realized your my name sake, Veronica. lol eerie weird, but cool. =) Thanks for all you do.

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  14. What a great post and the pictures are fantastic. I have been asked by my church to organize this celebration. I am completely unfamiliar with this celebration and coming across your post and blog has been just a beautiful blessing. You are now in my favorites! THANK YOU

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