COVID-19 Safety On Día De Los Muertos
With Día De Los Muertos fast approaching, it’s important to acknowledge things will be different this year.
As exciting as it is that most of the festivities fall over the weekend, we know things won’t be business as usual due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Here is more useful information on how to avoid becoming one of those statistics while keeping your family safe during these fall festivities.
Learning More About Día De Los Muertos
Although Texas has a robust Hispanic community that celebrates Día De Los Muertos, many of us may not know its roots. Día De Los Muertos translates to “Day of the Dead.”
Here in the USA, we mourn our loved ones when they pass with funeral services and wearing dark solemn clothing. It’s usually a sad time in our families when we have to say goodbye to loved ones forever.
One culture that has created a unique and interesting way embrace death and the deceased is the Mexican culture. Mexico is colorful, vivacious, and lots of fun. The people, the food, and the celebrations are bright, lively, and unequaled. So when it comes to death, in true Mexican-style, Mexicans celebrate with color, food, and music.
Day of the Dead is a 2-day celebration on November 1st and 2nd where it is believed that the passageway between the real world and the spirit world is open so our deceased loved ones can come back to visit us. What do we do when grandpa comes back from the land of the dead? We make his favorite meal and we offer him his favorite drink. We sing, dance, and rejoice before he heads back to the underworld for another year.
How It’s Celebrated in Texas
Today’s customs regarding Día De Los Muertos festivities have morphed over the years to become the distinct tradition it is now.
Families will gather during the night at the cemeteries (panteons) or at a families’ backyard, light candles, and place flowers on the burial sites of their lost loved ones. There is festive music and definitely no crying or grieving. This is a reflective and lively get-together honoring the lives of the deceased and celebrating all life and human experiences once again.
The traditions surrounding Day of the Dead are rich with cultural influence and filled with color and substance. See more information below on the customs and traditions below:
The Aztecs used to offer water and food to the deceased to help them on their journey to the land of the dead. Now, Mexican families set up beautifully decorated altars in their homes and place photos of the loved ones they have lost along with other items.
The ofrendas usually consist of water, the loved one’s favorite food and drink items, flowers, bread, and other things that celebrate the dead person’s life.
Marigolds are used during Día De Los Muertos celebrations by being placed on the altars and on the burial sites. The Marigold flower is thought to guide the spirits back with their intense color and pungent smell.
Skulls are a huge part of the holiday. Skulls were used during rituals in the Aztec era and passed on as trophies during battles.
Today, during Día De Los Muertos, small decorated sugar skulls are placed on the altars. There is nothing grim about these skulls. They are decorated with colorful edible paint, glitter, beads, and sport huge smiles.
The skulls (calaveras) and skeletons (calacas) that are so prominent in today’s festivities came about at the beginning of the 19th century when cartoonist and social activist José Guadalupe Posada drew La Catrina to protest the Mexican people’s desire to look more European. La Catrina has become one of the biggest symbols of Day of the Dead with people painting their faces with skulls and flowers.
Papel picado means perforated paper and is an integral part of Mexican culture. The art comes from the Aztec tradition of chiseling spirit figures on wood. It is used during Day of the Dead celebrations by stringing them on the altars and in the streets. Ofrendas showcase fire, water, earth, and air. Papeles picados represent air on the altar.
All About Food
Mexico knows food! There is no celebrating without food in Mexico. Customary foods are prepared during the Día De Los Muertos and are shared with family, neighbors, strangers, and the visiting spirits.
Pan de Muertos, or day of the dead bread, is an essential part of the festivities and is also placed on the altars. Sugar Skulls are enjoyed by the young and old during this time also. Mole, tamales, pozole, and sopa azteca are prepared by families with the recipes being passed on from generation to generation.
City Of Austin Recommendations for Autumn Celebrations
The City of Austin Public Health Department released a statement in late September recommending everyone follow the suggested CDC guidelines as it relates Día De Los Muertos and other fall festivities.
However, the Public Health Department released an accompanying statement, acknowledging the city is only in Phase 3 of recovery and that could change by October 31st.
Austin Public Health provided the following statement:
"It is hard to predict what the spread of COVID-19 will look like by Oct. 31. Right now, Austin-Travis County is in Stage 3 of the Austin Public Health risk-based guidelines, which provide recommendations for personal behavior. In Stage 3, individuals should avoid all social gatherings, which would include gatherings outside of your household such as going door-to-door for Halloween. However, if our community continues to practice preventative actions such as masking, social distancing, avoiding gatherings, and practicing proper hygiene, we may be in a better place by Oct. 31, and in Stage 1 or 2 of our Risk-Based Guidelines, which allow for some small social gatherings. It is also important to remember that as we enter the fall months that COVID-19 won’t be the only respiratory disease spreading, we will also see flu season start to pick up so we need everyone six months of age or older to make plans to get their flu shot by the end of the October to prevent a potentially devastating surge of two diseases at the same time. For more information on flu, visit www.AustinTexas.gov/Flu."
Austin, Texas COVID-19 Día De Los Muertos Safety Tips
The CDC also offered some specific guidelines on how to safely enjoy Día De Los Muertos, given you and your family haven’t been exposed to and/or are not currently active with COVID-19 – something that is particularly important in the Austin, Tx area.
Low Risk Activities
- Preparing traditional family recipes for family and neighbors, especially those at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19, and delivering them in a way that doesn’t involve contact with others.
- Playing music in your home that your deceased loved ones enjoyed.
- Making and decorating masks or making an altar for the deceased.
- Setting out pillows and blankets in your home for the deceased.
- Joining a virtual get-together celebration.
Medium Risk Activities
The following are medium risk, but CDC has extra advice on how to make these options even safer.
- Having a small group outdoor, open-air parade where people are distanced more than 6 feet apart.
- Visiting and decorating graves of loved ones with household members only and keeping more than 6 feet away from others who may be in the area.
- Hosting or attending a small dinner with local family and friends outdoors where people are distanced more than 6 feet part. Lower your risk by following CDC’s recommendations on hosting gatherings or cook-outs.
High Risk Activities
CDC recommends avoiding these types of activities altogether as they violate CDC guidelines on gatherings, regardless of the holiday.
- Attending large indoor celebrations with singing or chanting.
- Participating in crowded indoor gatherings or events.
- Having a large dinner party with people from different households coming from different geographic locations.
- Using alcohol or drugs, which can cloud judgement and increase risky behaviors.
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