Viterbo celebrates Día de los Muertos with altars across campus


Heidi Kloostra

Altar in Reinhart bulding.

Grace Monk, Editor

On Nov. 2 Viterbo celebrated Día de los Muertos, also known as Day of the Dead, by setting up altars around campus for members of the community to observe. 

Día de los Muertos is a Mexican holiday that occurs every year, and it represents a time for families to celebrate. The tradition begins on Halloween, which is when the gates of heaven open at midnight to allow the spirits of children to come down for 24 hours, and lasts through Nov. 1. On Nov. 2 the spirits of adults come down from heaven for the final day of celebration.  

Día de los Muertos has many traditions, including colorful altars that honor their loved ones. The altars are often decorated with marigold flowers, candles, water, paper flowers, photos of the person being honored, and the traditional sweet bread known as Pan de Muerto. Marianna Zea, an international student, shared that making Pan de Muerto is one of her “favorite family traditions.” Zea described the bread as “fluffy with an orange blossom scent and sugar on top,” going on to say that, “it’s really good and we always eat it with hot chocolate.” Zea is both Panamanian and Mexican but calls Panama her home. “My dad is Mexican, so we celebrate every Nov. 2,” shared Zea.  

Zea and her family partake in the making of altars where they place photos of their deceased loved ones and an item that represents them. “For my grandma on my dad’s side I put a jewelry piece she gave me and for my great grandparents on my mom’s side, I put Panamanian elements like the traditional hats,” shared Zea.  

According to Zea, Panama celebrates the holiday in a different way which mostly consists of praying and placing flowers on the graves of loved ones. Like the Catholic holiday All Saints’ Day, Día de los Muertos is centered around praying for deceased loved ones.  “I think many Latin American countries celebrate it since it’s a Catholic tradition,” shared Zea, “but I think each country has a different way to celebrate it.” 

Zea works for Viterbo’s Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion department and helped organize the altars. “I was asked to make a list of the elements that go on the altars for each building,” shared Zea. The DEI has a diverse set of students and faculty working there, which has helped the department engage in a variety of cultural traditions.  

For Zea, being away from home on Día de los Muertos was hard, but she was happy to help with the altars. “It was nice to see the altars and have a traditional Mexican holiday being celebrated on campus,” shared Zea. The tradition Zea missed the most was enjoying her dad’s Pan de Muerto. “I looked for some bread, but unfortunately I was not able to find any,” shared Zea, “but it is my first semester here so maybe I will find it next year.” 

Members of the Viterbo community looking to learn more about Día de los Muertos or other cultural celebrations around campus can visit the DEI Center located in Nursing Center room 447.