Henning lived for several years in El Salvador, working as a teacher. He is Co-Founder of the SAY ZONTE! project. Writing for this blog is his way to give s.th. back to “el pulgarcito.”
El Día De Los Muertos in El Salvador
The “Día de Los Muertos” (Day of the Dead) is a very important and fascinating tradition all over Latin America.
The Día de Los Muertos in El Salvadors is also called “El día de los defuntos.”
If you are not from Latin America, you may find this tradition genuinely fascinating because it is probably very different from what you are used to as a European or North American.
Keep reading to learn more about one of the most exciting traditions of El Salvador.
What are people doing on the Día de los muertos in El Salvador
People in El Salvador (and anywhere else in Latin America ) usually celebrate the “Día de Los Muertos” every year on the 2nd of November.
Family and friends are coming together at the tombs of their beloved relatives or friends who have died. They usually sit down beside (or even on) the graves and pray.
But now comes that part that is fascinating for everyone who has never seen it before. While you usually dress in black in Europe, and everything seems to be very serious and sad in a cemetery, Salvadoran people are decorating the tombs with colorful flowers.
Suddenly, it appears that the cemetery is a place that comes back to life. People are cleaning the graves and painting the tombs’ crosses in bright colors. They and are even singing, playing music, and having lunch on the graves.
Everything seems to be a big, happy family meeting. But don’t be deceived: people in El Salvador are as sad as we are when some of their beloved relatives or friend dies. They just have a completely different point of view concerning death.
Another part of this tradition are the “ofrendas” (offerings). The offerings can be flowers, pictures, candy, candles, or even alcohol or cigarettes, that people place on a private shrine to give it to the deaths. It’s beautiful and touching to see at the same time. You won’t see it that often in El Salvador.
What is the background of this tradition in El Salvador?
As mentioned before, people in El Salvador (and Latin America generally) have a different perspective concerning death.
While in Europe, death is a private thing that you shouldn’t celebrate, El Salvador people are trying to take death as part of life. They believe that as long as you remember the people who have died, they’re still part of your life or at least not “completely dead” because they keep living in your memory.
On the “Día de Los Muertos,” the people from the living world connect to the deaths’ souls. The deaths are listening to the prayers, and somehow, they are coming “back to life,” or at least back to your memory.
Mexico is world-famous for his “Dia de los muertos.” Academics are not sure if it’s part of the catholic tradition (All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day) or if it’s still a relic of the pre-Hispanic culture.
The truth probably is somewhere in between it.
The Mexican president Lárzaro Cárdenas implemented this tradition to support Mexican nationalism through a pre-Hispanic identity. In 2008, UNESCO inscribed the tradition in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
In El Salvador, this tradition is not as “spectacular” as in Mexico, for example. There’re no big parades, and also, the famous “calaveras” (the skulls) are not as common in El Salvador.
It’s part of the cultural heritage in El Salvador, but it isn’t as present in the educational system, for example, as it is in Mexico.
However, it’s still a very touching and impressive event that you shouldn’t miss when you’re visiting El Salvador around the 1st and 2nd of November.
Where can I see the Día de Los Muertos in El Salvador?
You can usually get a good impression of “El Día de Los Muertos” on almost every cemetery in El Salvador around the 1st and 2nd of November.
The graveyard in La Libertad is one good option if you’re around the coast are and El Zonte. The place is situated directly at the ocean, and the deaths (and you) have a beautiful view of the pacific ocean.
You can bring your camera, but please remember that many people are still mourning on this day. It’s a private family celebration. So if you want to take a photo of someone sitting on a grave, kindly ask before taking the picture.
Sometimes it’s better to get into small talk with the people before to show them that you’re sincerely interested in their tradition and not only looking for the next Instagram photo.
Tips for Spanish learners
The last tip is for Spanish learners: You should watch the movie “Coco” (click link) to get an idea about what the “Day of the Dead” means to people from Latin America. Watch the original in Spanish with subtitles in your language, if possible!
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