Día de Muertos: 9 nonfiction books to celebrate Day of the Dead

Día de Muertos: 9 nonfiction books to celebrate Day of the Dead

Honouring the departed: delving into Día de los Muertos through nonfiction

by Suswati Basu
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Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a Mexican holiday celebrated throughout the world, dedicated to remembering and honouring deceased loved ones. The richness of its history, symbolism, and contemporary manifestations is captured in various nonfiction works.

So what is the Day of the Dead or ‘Día de los Muertos’ celebrated for?

The Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) is a Mexican holiday celebrated to honour and remember deceased loved ones. Anchored in a blend of indigenous Mesoamerican beliefs and Catholic traditions, the holiday is defined by its unique cultural symbols such as sugar skulls, marigolds, and detailed altars (ofrendas). Here’s a brief overview of its significance:

  • Remembrance: Fundamentally, Día de los Muertos is about commemorating the lives of the departed. Families create ofrendas embellished with photographs, favourite foods, and personal belongings of the deceased, to welcome their spirits back to the realm of the living.
  • Celebration of life: Whilst the holiday revolves around death, it predominantly celebrates life. It’s a jubilant occasion replete with music, dancing, and festivities, underscoring the cyclical nature of existence and the interconnectedness of life and death.
  • Cultural fusion: Over the years, Día de los Muertos has evolved as a meld of ancient indigenous customs and Catholic beliefs. The holiday aligns with the Catholic observances of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day on 1st and 2nd November.
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  • Community and family: The holiday encourages a sense of community and familial unity. Families unite to prepare dishes, exchange stories of the deceased, and engage in community gatherings.
  • Artistic expression: Día de los Muertos is renowned for its lively arts and crafts. From vivid sugar skulls (calaveras) to detailed paper cut-outs (papel picado), the holiday is a testament to creativity and skill.
  • Spiritual connection: Many hold the belief that during Día de los Muertos, the boundary between the living and the spiritual realm narrows, permitting souls to visit and relish the offerings presented to them.

In essence, the Day of the Dead is a distinct cultural tradition that presents an alternative view on death, seeing it not as a termination but as an ongoing journey, and commemorating the unbreakable link between the living and the departed.

Best books for Día de Muertos / Day of the Dead

Here’s a curated list of the best nonfiction books that offer a deeper understanding of this profound celebration.

  • “Through the Eyes of the Soul: Mexico City, Mixquic & Morelos” by Mary Andrade. Andrade, who was a consultant on the Pixar movie Coco, travelled the country, visiting a multitude of places so that she could establish how the tradition varies between regions.
  • Llewellyn’s Little Book of the Day of the Dead” by Jaime Gironés. Packed with activities, recipes, spells, and rituals, this pocket-sized guide is a must-have tool for honoring the sacred dead.
  • This Party’s Dead: Grief, Joy and Spilled Rum at the World’s Death Festivals” by Erica Buist. After her father-in-law’s death, Buist explored global death festivals, juxtaposing personal grief with cultural celebrations, revealing universal connections in life, death, and renewal.
  • The Skeleton at the Feast” by Elizabeth Carmichael and Chloë Sayer. Carmichael and Sayer delve into Mexico’s Day of the Dead, examining its rich history, traditions, and significance in contemporary culture. It’s a great introductory book about the subject.
  • “The Days of the Dead: Mexico’s Festival of Communion With the Departed/Los Dias De Muertos” by Rosalind Rosoff Beimler and John Greenleigh. Over four years, Greenleigh’s photographs from diverse Mexican towns, villages, cemeteries, festivals, and homes depict the celebrations, enriched by cultural insights from scholar Bemier.
  • Día de los Muertos: A Cultural Legacy, Past, Present and Future” by Betty Ann Brown, Marietta Bernstorff, Karen Mary Davalos, and Rose Salseda. Día de los Muertos in Southern California spans August-November, blending cultural influences. The book contextualises its evolution at Self Help Graphics & Art – a community art centre in East Los Angeles. It was one of the first two places to start celebrating Day of the Dead in the United States in 1972.
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  • Day of the Dead in the USA: The Migration and Transformation of a Cultural Phenomenon” by Regina M Marchi. Exploring public ritual’s communicative power, this book blends ethnography, history, and cultural analysis, examining mainstream adaptations of traditional practices.
  • On the Path of Marigolds” by photographer Ann Murdy. This book captures vibrant photographs celebrating Día de los Muertos over a period of 20 years, illuminating its profound cultural significance.The book has won multiple awards including the 2021 Southwest Book Design Award for best art book.
  • “Digging the Days of the Dead” by Juanita Garciagodoy. Garciagodoy explores the celebration’s facets, tracing its evolution from Pre Hispanic and Spanish Catholic influences to its contemporary variations in Mexico’s folk and popular culture.

Hence, these books provide a mixture of historical context, cultural exploration, personal narratives, and striking visuals, ensuring that readers gain a multifaceted understanding of Día de los Muertos. Whether you’re a newcomer to the holiday or someone looking to deepen your appreciation, these titles are sure to enlighten and inspire.

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This article contains affiliate links via Bookshop.org in which we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you, in order to support local bookshops. However, we have not been commissioned to review books and services.


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