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Hispanic Heritage: Día de los Muertos

MC Library Celebrates Dia de los Muertos

Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is an annual celebration that honors those who have passed away. The holiday blends influences from indigenous Latin America and colonial Spain and features folk art, ofrendas (or altars), and celebratory food, and music. Learn more about Día de los Muertos by exploring the resources below. 

Featured Resources

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Skulls to the Living, Bread to the Dead

Each October, as the Day of the Dead draws near, Mexican markets overflow with decorated breads, fanciful paper cutouts, and whimsical toy skulls and skeletons. To honor deceased relatives, Mexicans decorate graves and erect home altars. Drawing on a rich array of historical and ethnographic evidence, this volume reveals the origin and changing character of this celebrated holiday. It explores the emergence of the Day of the Dead as a symbol of Mexican and Mexican-American national identity and poses a serious challenge to the widespread stereotype of the morbid Mexican, unafraid of death, and obsessed with dying. In fact, the Day of the Dead, as shown here, is a powerful affirmation of life and creativity.

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Making an Exit : from the magnificent to the macabre -- how we dignify the dead

Thoughtful, amusing, and provocative, Making an Exit will transform the way you look at life's last passage. Because, as Murray discovers, death is, for many, not an ending but the start of something new. Author and journalist Sarah Murray never gave much thought to what might ultimately happen to her remains--that was, until her father died. While he'd always insisted that the "organic matter" left after a person takes their last breath had no significance, he surprised his family by setting down elaborate arrangements for the scattering of his own ashes. This unexpected last request prompted Murray to embark on a series of voyages to discover how our end is commemorated around the globe -- and how we approach our own mortality.

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Day of the Dead

The Day of the Dead is the most important annual celebration in Oaxaca, Mexico. Skillfully combining textual information and photographic imagery, this book begins with a discussion of the people of Oaxaca, their way of life, and their way of looking at the world. It then takes the reader through the celebration from the preparations that can begin months in advance through to the private gatherings in homes and finally to the cemetery where the villagers celebrate together -- both the living and the dead. The voices in the book are of those people who have participated in the Day of the Dead for as long as they can remember. There are no ghosts here. Only the souls of loved ones who have gone to the Village of the Dead and who are allowed to return once a year to be with their family.  

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Funny Bones: Posada and his Day of the Dead Calaveras

Funny Bones tells the story of how calaveras came to be. The amusing figures are the creation of Mexican artist José Guadalupe (Lupe) Posada (1852-1913). Lupe learned the art of printing at a young age and soon had his own shop. In a country that was not known for freedom of speech, he drew political cartoons but is best known today for his calavera drawings. They have become synonymous with Mexico's Día de Muertos festival. Calaveras are skeletons performing all sorts of activities, both everyday and festive. They are not intended to be frightening, but rather to celebrate the joy of living and provide humorous observations about people. Author and illustrator Tonatiuh relates the pivotal moments of Lupe's life and explains the different artistic processes he used. Juxtaposing his own artwork with Lupe's, Tonatiuh brings to light the remarkable life and work of a man beloved by many but whose name has remained in obscurity.

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The Skeleton at the Feast

All over Mexico, early in November, families gather to welcome the souls of the dead on their annual visit home. The smells of burning copal incense and pungent cempasúchil (marigolds) mingle with the aromas of fresh bread, new clothing, sweets, and candles. One of Mexico's most important festivals since prehispanic times, the Day of the Dead is an occasion for celebrating and feasting, cleaning and decorating graves, dancing and making music. In this unique work, the authors explore both the historic origins of this holiday and its colorful present-day celebrations in Mexico and the United States. Interviews with Mexican artists and crafters who provide goods for the festival--from personalized sugar skulls to gigantic papier-mâché skeletons--offer a fascinating glimpse into traditional and contemporary attitudes toward death and the dead. 

Día de los Muertos

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Streaming Films:

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Images by José Guadalupe Posada:

Search for the artist's name in the ARTstor database to find many more of his works.

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Día de los Muertos Altar and Community Celebration

Date: Wednesday, October 18 & Thursday, October 19

Time: 12:00pm-3:00pm

Location: Germantown (HS 011)

Registration: None required

Contact:  Maria Sprehn 

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