Día-de-muertos-corona-day-of-the-dead-wreath
Japanese Language,  Madrehood,  Multiculturalism,  Spanish Language
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Yesterday may have been the end of Hispanic Heritage Month, but we’re just a few weeks shy of El Día de Muertos or the Day of the Dead.

This year marks my second time intentionally celebrating the Mexican tradition with my mixed family.

When my father passed away, there was not much talk of him after attending the funeral and going through some grief counseling.

I’m sincerely grateful that celebrating El Día de Muertos has given me a way to not only mourn members of my family who have passed away, but to share memories of those loved ones with my son.

What is Día de Muertos? How Do You Celebrate Día de Muertos?

El Día de Muertos is a tradition that welcomes the return of the spirits of the deceased. It’s not Halloween but a cultural tradition that is honored in Mexico and throughout several regions of Latin America.

In 2003, UNESCO declared the holiday an intangible cultural heritage of humanity.

Día de Muertos is actually not just un día but several days spanning from October 31st to November 2nd, which encompass All Saints Day, The Day of Little Angels, and All Souls Day.

Families prepare altars either in their homes or at graveyards. These are usually decorated with symbolic and personal items. There’s also plenty of great, traditional Mexican food.

What do the Altars Represent for El Día de Muertos?

El-Altar-de-los-muertos

Altars have offerings to the dead who come to visit from the afterlife. Much thought and care go into building an altar because you think about what your loved one enjoyed when they were in the land of the living.

Believe it or not, there’s a similar summer holiday in Japan known as O-bon (お盆), which is held in August.

During O-bon festivals, families visit the graves of their ancestors and pay their respects. There are dances and feasts too.

But the vibrant atmosphere of a Día de Muertos festival is not like the somber one of O-bon.

Even if you don’t celebrate these holidays, we can all agree that loss is something that humans experience. I hope this post will give you insight into a different way that a culture can mourn.

Here’s some simple vocabulary for you to discuss Día de Muertos the next time you bring it up to a Spanish or Japanese language speaker!

** Ion gone play that rōmaji mess. If you’re on your cell, get a kanji dictionary. If you’re on a laptop, get rikai-kun for Chrome and rikaichamp for Firefox.**

General Terms for Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) in Spanish and Japanese

1. Death La Muerte | 死(し)

La vida y la muerte.

生と

Translation: Life and death.

2. Soul La Alma|魂 (たましい)

Las almas van por sus ofrendas.

お供えのためは立ち寄る。

Translation: The souls come for their offerings.

3. Spirit El Espíritu| 霊 (れい)

Venerar a los espíritus.

霊を讃える

Translation: To honor the spirits.

4. The Deceased Los Difuntos|死者・故人 (ししゃ・こじん)

Se celebra Día de Todos Los Santos el primero de Noviembre y Día de Los Difuntos el dos de Noviembre.

11月の1日は諸聖人の日で、2日は死者の日です。

Translation: All Saints Day is celebrated on November 1st and November 2nd is All Souls Day.

Note: All Souls Day is also be called 万霊節(ばんれいせつ)in Japanese.

5. Angels Los Angeles|天使(てんし)

El Día de Los Angelitos es una tradición para los niños pequeños.

天使の日は小さい子供のための伝統的な祝日です。

Translation: The Day of Little Angels is a traditional holiday for small children.

6. Wreath La Corona | 花輪(はなわ)

La corona decora el altar.

花輪で祭壇を飾る。

Translation: A wreath decorates the altar.

7. Arch El Arco | 門(もん)

El arco representa la entrada al mundo de los muertos.

このは、生きている人間たちと死者の世界をつなぐ霊界への入り口です。

Translation: The arch represents the entrance to the world of the dead.

8. Marigold Cempasúchil (Cempazuchitl o Zempasúchil) | マリーゴールド

Los cempasúchiles dirigen en camino las almas.

マリーゴールドは魂を導く。

Translation: Marigolds guide the spirits.

9. Crucifix La Cruz | 十字架

La cruz quita las penas de las almas.

十字架は苦しんでいる魂を助ける。

Translation: The cross frees spirits from their troubles.

Elements of Día de Muertos Altars in Spanish and Japanese

10. Altars Los Altares | 祭壇(さいだん)・供物台(くもつだい)

Los niveles de los altares representan las divisiones del cielo y la tierra. El cielo, la tierra, y el inframundo. 

祭壇は世界が階層になっています。一つは天国、地上、地底。

Translation: The altars represent the divisions between heaven and earth.

Note: There can be different levels of altars and what they represent can differ too.  

11. Little Sugar Skulls Calaveritas de Azúcar | 砂糖菓子ドクロ(さとうがしのどくろ)

Las calaveritas de azúcar representan la muerte.

砂糖菓子ドクロは死を表している。

Translation: Sugar skulls represent death.

12. Grave La Tumba | お墓(おはか)

Las decoraciones de las tumbas son brillantes y coloridas.

お墓の飾りが明くてカラフルです。

Translation: The decorations on graves are bright and colorful.

Note: It’s funny how Oaxaca (オアハカ), a city in Mexico known for its lavish Day of the Dead celebrations, sounds like お墓 a little.

13. Paper cut-outs El Papel Picado | 切り紙(きりがみ)

El papel picado es un símbolo del aire y los muertos.

切り紙は風を表している。

Translation: Paper cut-outs are a symbol of air and the dead.

14. Candles Las Velas/Las Veladoras | ろうそく

Las velas son símbolos del fuego que brillan en el camino de los muertos.

ろうそくは火を表して、死者の道を照らす。

Translation: Candles represent the fire that lights the path of the dead.

15. Water El Agua | お水(おみず)

El agua es para curar la sed del alma.

お水は魂の渇きを癒すためです。

Translation: Water cures a soul’s thirst.

16. Portrait/Photo El Retrato/La Foto | 遺影(いえい)・写真(しゃしん)

El retrato del difunto.

亡くなった先祖の遺影

Translation: Portrait of ancestors who have passed away.

17. Incense El incienso | お香(おこう)

El incienso es un símbolo del camino de los muertos.

お香は死者の道のシンボルです。

Translation: Incense is a symbol of the path of the dead.

18. Copal: Copal | コーパル

Quemar copal (una resina).

コーパル(樹液)を焚く。

Translation: To light copal (a tree sap).

Psst, sorry to interrupt!
Since you’ve scrolled this far…

Maybe you’d like to get serious about learning a language? 

Offerings for the Día de Muertos in Spanish and Japanese

19. Bread of the Dead
El Pan de Muertos |パンで死者
(ぱんでししゃ)

El pan de la muerte representa la osamenta.

死者のパンは骸骨を表す。

Translation: The bread of the dead represents bones.

20. Sesame Seeds El Anjoljolí | 胡麻(ごま)

El Ajonjolí son las lágrimas de las almas que no pueden descansar.

胡麻は平和のない魂の涙に表す。

Translation: Sesame seeds represent the tears of the souls that cannot rest.

21. Tamales Los Tamales | タマーレス

Los tamales son alimentos preparados con masa de maíz y carne cocida envuelta en hojas de plátano y cocido al vapor.

タマーレスはトウモロコシの皮かオオバコのはで包んで蒸したものです。

Translation: Tamales are food that’s prepared in corn flour and meat, wrapped in a banana leaf, and steamed.

22. Mole Mole | モーレ

Mole es un guiso tradicional de México.

モーレはメキシコの伝統的なシチュー。

Translation: Mole is a traditional Mexican stew.

23. Candied Pumpkin La Calabaza de Techa |砂糖シロップ漬けのゆでカボチャ

La calabaza de techa es dulce.

砂糖シロップ漬けのゆでカボチャは甘いです。

Translation: Candied pumpkin is sweet.

24. Atole Atole |アトーレ

Atole es una bebida de maíz.

アトーレはメキシコの穀物の飲み物です。

Translation: Atole is a corn-based drink.

25. Salt La Sal | お塩(おしお)

La sal purifica las almas.

お塩は魂を清める

Translation: Salt purifies spirits.

26. Tequila La Tequila/El Licor |お酒(おさけ)

Las almas beben tequila.

はお酒を飲む。

Translation: The souls drink tequila.

BONUS: Nice-to-Know Verbs in Spanish and Japanese for Describing Día de Muertos

27. Place Colocar | 置く(おく)

Colocar el altar en la casa.

お家に祭壇を置く

Translation: To put up an altar in one’s home.

28. Scatter Regar | 散らす

Regar los pétalos de cempasúchiles.

マリゴールドの花びらを散らす

Translation: To scatter the petals of marigold flowers.

29. Visit Visitar | 参る (まいる)

Las familias visitan las tumbas de los ancestros.

ご先祖様のお墓に参る

Translation: Families visit the graves of their ancestors.

30. Grieve Llorar la muerte de | 弔う(とむらう)

Llorar la muerte de seres queridos.

家族を弔う

Translation: To mourn loved ones.

Now that you have all this wonderful vocabulary, how should you go about using and reviewing?

Create your own DIY Day of Dead the Altar.

I’d also highly recommend watching Pixar’s Coco—with or without subtitles.

I’m going to be watching the Japanese dub. It has the title localized as 

Remember me 

ミー 

Since I love learning new words through songs, I’m going to make a goal to learn the lyrics!

Wouldn’t it be nice to make language goals that someone could hold you accountable for? And what about a neat 90-day planner that has you track your progress? 

When you get a copy of Melanintro to Languages, you get your own customizable planner!

Plus you’ll get access to my new private Facebook group, Morenita Mommies! I believe in creating a safe space for BIPOC language learners to share their language learning goals and get access to a walk-through on how to use your planner to make yourself multilingual and stay on top of your languages.

¡Hasta la proxima!

Trilingual copywriter and translator raising her biracial baby trilingual. I love raising awareness about diversity in the writing world. I'm also a tea snob who talks way too much.

2 Comments

  • K E Garland

    My mother died when I was 16. Like you, I think it would’ve been beneficial to have some type of continued ceremony/tradition.

    Also, my sister keeps an altar in her home, right off the living room <3

    • Errol De Jesus

      That’s wonderful that she keeps an altar! I had to take ours down because the baby kept climbing it lol

      Losing a parent is hard and talking about it is too. But our loved ones live in our memories of them. They deserve to be honored in my opinion. Thank you for sharing!

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