Loving the Lost: Celebrating Dia de Los Muertos at Daemen

By Cadence Russell

Celebrating holidays away from home often looks widely different. For freshman pre-med and athletic training major Cassandra Moss, Dia de Los Muertos at home consists of a month of preparation with hand-made everything. At college, it’s store-bought items and a couple of nights of celebration.

“At college, we have to do something a little bit different just because you know, everybody’s schedules are a little more chaotic,” Moss said. “But what we did is we made an altar around that in my room, and we decorated it. I prayed last night, and my friends are going to pray with me tonight.”

Dia de Los Muertos is the celebration of lost loved ones, typically celebrated by people of Mexican descent. This year Moss is celebrating her uncle, who she lost earlier in the year.

Rice, left, joined by freshman history and political science major Aysha Waddell (second from left), Pokoj (second from right), and Moss on the far right. Moss wanted to cook a dinner to really bring the holiday together and to celebrate with friends in the place of family. Photo by Cadence Russell.

“It’s really just to remember our loved ones and to keep their memory going forward because we miss them and we love them and we really do appreciate them but we need to remember that their memories aren’t gone,” Moss said.

Dia de Los Muertos is typically celebrated on Nov. 1 and 2, though dates may range depending on the family and/or region. Leading up to the days, families may be cleaning the graves of passed loved ones, adding items to their altar, and more.

“Honestly, it sounds really corny but kind of just being with my family. I loved putting everything on the flowers and making everything was the best part, especially making the flowers with my mom,” Moss said.

In the absence of her family this year, Moss celebrated with friends on her floor in Canavan. 

“Cassie asked me if I wanted to add a person to her ofrenda to celebrate so I put my grandpa on it to honor him and it was a really nice experience to be a part of someone else’s culture and learn more,” freshman entrepreneurship and leadership in the arts major Anna Pokoj said. 

“The dinner added to that nice experience because it really felt like we were all able to celebrate loved ones,” Pokoj said.

Along with setting up an ofrenda and allowing her friends to partake, Moss also cooked an entire dinner on Nov. 2, complete with steak, seasoned by Moss herself, Spanish rice, shrimp, vegetables, and a homemade sauce.

“We made sugar skulls and we also put our pictures up of all my friend’s loved ones that passed away and we’re also doing a dinner,” Moss said, “So we’re making some good food and listening to some very, very cultural music that goes to Dia de Los Muertos.”

Moss not only wanted to share Dia de Los Muertos with her friends to celebrate the holiday but to also change how people viewed the holiday.

“Most people think it’s kind of close to Halloween, and I want to show people there’s a huge difference and that they’re not the same and that you can celebrate your loved ones anytime because I know we all miss them,” Moss said.

Though the two holidays occur at the same time of year, they consist of vastly different traditions and meanings. While Halloween has taken over the US by storm through costumes and trick-or-treating, Dia de Los Muertos holds much more cultural significance and importance, remembering lost loved ones and celebrating their memory.

“I believe that everyone should be able to celebrate their losses however they’d like to. I was honored to be included in such a sacred religious event,” freshman psychology major and Moss’s roommate, Skyler Rice said.

Unlike other holidays of remembrance, Dia de Los Muertos exchanges mourning with celebration.

“I lost my uncle in August. I was devastated. I was like, well now I’m not gonna see my best friend anymore,” Moss said, “I felt personally for me, when I made the altar and after I prayed for him, I just remembered all of his stories and memories that we had.”

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