Celebrating Día de los Difuntos

Today is Spanish Friday so this post is in Spanish. If you participated in Spanish Friday on your own blog, leave your link in comments. English translation is below!

Este año no pensé que ibamos a tener una ofrenda por Día de los Muertos. Dos años pasados, sin realizar que los salvadoreños no celebran Día de los Muertos igual que los mexicanos, hice una ofrenda para el papá de Carlos. Carlos agradeció el gesto pero ponía algo triste y esto no fue mi intención. El problema fue que Carlos no estaba acostumbrado tener una ofrenda porque en El Salvador no se hace eso.

Mientras que los mexicanos llaman el día “Día de los Muertos” y celebran la muerte, abrazan la muerte, aún se ríen de ella – los salvadoreños llaman el día “Día de los Difuntos” y lo consideran un día de recordar sus queridos fallecidos en una manera mucho más sombría.

El año pasado, no queriendo repetir mi error, no tenía previsto hacer una ofrenda, pero mis hijos me dijeron que les gustó la tradición y querian tener una. Entonces, hicimos una ofrenda por nuestro perro que se murió.

Este año no tenía planes por hacer una ofrenda otra vez, pero Carlos me dijo que ya se siente comodo en tener una ofrenda con sus queridos fallecidos. Entonces, nuestra ofrenda incluye el papá de Carlos, la abuela de Carlos, el abuelo de Carlos, (que se murió sólo una mes atrás), mi abuelo y dos perros.

Hay demasiados detalles en la ofrenda por explicar, pero les voy a explicar un poco. Tal vez ustedes pueden buscar los artículos en la foto que menciono.

El papá de Carlos, (“Don Max”) le gustó mucho el casamiento – un plato hecho de arroz y frijoles. Por eso, hay arroz y frijoles. También tuvo un camión pick-up, y estaba muy orgulloso de él. El papá de Carlos era un entrenador de fútbol y le gustaba echar chile en su comida, (algo raro por un salvadoreño, pero algo que le gusta a Carlos también.) Don Max no era muy religoso pero era super dedicado a San Antonio.

Mi abuelo tampoco era muy religoso, pero identificó como judío. Le gustó la música “Big Band” y se comió Corn Flakes cada mañana.

Hay una historia sobre el abuelo de Carlos. “Papá Milo” era muy bueno por nadar y a veces cruzó el Río Lempa nadando para traer grandes bolsas de maíz para su familia. El abuelo de Carlos también fue el alcalde de un pueblo de Chalatenango, y casi siempre andaba con sombrero de vaquero.

La abuela de Carlos se llamaba “Mamá Juana” y era una mujer muy dulce. Ella tuvo diez hijos, y le encantaban las flores. Yo recuerdo que a veces Mamá Juana, en la manera de muchas salvadoreñas del pueblo, usaba un delantal encima de su vestido, aunque no estaba cocinando.

¿Hiciste una ofrenda tú? Quién estás recordando?


This year I didn’t think we’d have an altar for Day of the Dead. Two years ago, without realizing that Salvadorans don’t celebrate Day of the Dead the same way Mexicans do, I made an altar for Carlos’s father. Carlos appreciated the gesture but it made him kind of sad, which was not my intention. The problem was that Carlos wasn’t used to having an altar because Salvadorans don’t make them.

While Mexicans call the day “Día de los Muertos” and celebrate death, embrace death, and even laugh at death – Salvadorans call the day “Día de los Difuntos” and consider it a day to remember your passed loved ones in a much more somber way.

Last year, not wanting to repeat my mistake, I didn’t have plans to make an altar, but my boys told me they liked the tradition and wanted to have one. So, we made an altar to one of our dogs which had died.

This year, again I didn’t have plans to make an altar, but Carlos told me he feels more comfortable now to have an altar with his passed loved ones. So, this year we have an altar which includes Carlos’s father, Carlos’s grandmother, Carlos’s grandfather, (who died only a month ago), my grandfather, and two dogs.

There are too many details to explain them all, but I will explain the altar to you a little. Maybe you can find the items I’ll mention in the photo.

The father of Carlos, (“Don Max”) really liked casamiento – a dish made from rice and beans. For that reason, there are rice and beans. He also had a pick-up truck which he was very proud of. Carlos’s father was a football coach and he liked to put chile pepper on his food, (kind of rare for a Salvadoran, but something Carlos also likes to do.) Don Max wasn’t very religious but he was super dedicated to Saint Anthony.

My grandfather wasn’t very religious either, but he identified as Jewish. He liked Big Band music and ate Corn Flakes every morning.

There’s a story about Carlos’s grandfather. “Papá Milo” was really good at swimming and sometimes he would swim across the Lempa River to bring big bags of corn to his family. Carlos’s grandfather was also the mayor of a town in Chalatenango and almost always wore a cowboy hat.

Carlos’s grandmother was called “Mamá Juana” and was a really sweet woman. She had ten children and she loved flowers. I remember that sometimes Mamá Juana, in the way of many Salvadoran women from the countryside, used to wear an apron over her dress, even though she wasn’t cooking.

Did you make an ofrenda? Who are you remembering?


  1. That’s really cool that you made una ofrenda! A couple of weeks ago my son watched a little video about “Dia de los Muertos” and he started asking me about it. I tried to explain it best I could. His father was out of town. I was so happy that he was curious about it. I really want to start this tradition in our house. I wanted to do it this year but I was so into Halloween, I didn’t allow myself enough time. Myt husband’s father passed away recently and I thought it might make him sad… I’ll talk to him about it. Considering he is from Mexico (and has probably always remembered loves ones with una ofrenda) might make him feel good. It’s so new to me that I didn’t really know where to start. Thanks for sharing what you did!

    • That’s great that your boy is curious! Definitely talk to your husband and ask him if he used to celebrate it and if he’d feel comfortable, (because I felt kind of awful that I made Carlos sad that first year!)

      I have to admit that it’s taken me awhile to warm up to the altar myself. The first year when I made one for Carlos’s father, I didn’t include my own grandfather, partly because I questioned whether it was appropriate being that he was Jewish, not very religious and also probably never even heard of Día de los Muertos – but also because I knew seeing his photo on an altar for a couple days would make me sad. (I only have photos of him in an album, not framed on walls.)

      This is typical of Anglo-Americans, I think. Death makes us sad, no matter how long ago it took place, (my grandfather died when I was 16, so it’s been a long time!)

      I’m happy that after all these years I’m starting to adopt different attitudes about death and mourning. When I made this altar and included my grandfather I really felt like I was truly celebrating who he was and spending some time with him in spirit. I had fun thinking of what to include for him and smiled at some of my memories. It was really special and it gave me a chance to remind our boys of stories about relatives they didn’t get to meet, or only met briefly.

      Anyway – that is my very long way of saying – talk to your husband and see if he’d be interested in doing this next year. It’s really a beautiful holiday and very much worth celebrating.

  2. There was an office-decorating contest at the embassy here (which was nice because then all the embassy families — American and Salvadoran — could take their kids trick-or-treating around the offices since obviously they can’t do it out in the neighborhoods!) and my husband’s office chose Día de Los Muertos as their theme. So we made a fake altar and got dressed up and painted our faces. Not the same as a real offering I know!

    But yesterday for the national holiday everyone had the day off so they could spend the day at the cemetery paying respects to their deceased loved ones. The whole city seemed shut down and there was barely anyone out in the streets, which was nice for all the gringos — no traffic for a change!

Note: You are not required to sign in to leave a comment. Please feel free to leave the email and/or website fields blank for an easier commenting experience.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.