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Spanish "Day of the Dead" Vocabulary: Vocabulario - el Día de los Muertos

written by: R. H. • edited by: Tricia Goss • updated: 1/5/2012

El Día de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) is an important yearly holiday throughout much of Latin America. If you plan to celebrate it this October or November, or if you are simply interested in learning more about it, read on for a list of important Spanish vocabulary words about this holiday.

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    Timing Of The Holiday

    The Day of the Dead, or el Día de los Muertos, is a cultural and religious holiday celebrated throughout much of Latin America and in parts of the United States. The celebration extends for several days, from October 31 through November 2, and is focused around rites and activities that are believed to welcome back the spirits of the deceased for a time of visiting.

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    Essential Vocabulary

    Calavera de azúcar There are many unique objects, ceremonies and foods that make up the ceremonies and beliefs that are part of the Día de los Muertos. This following list of words and phrases comprises some of the important Spanish vocabulary that you should know if you plan to celebrate the Day of the Dead, or if you simply wish to understand it better:

    Click for a downloadable, printable list of Spanish vocabulary for el Día de los Muertos

    el alfeñique - the special cooked sugar paste used to form skulls, flowers and other figures for the Día de los Muertos.

    el altar de la ofrenda - the altar of the offering

    elaltar de muertos - the offering prepared for the deceased

    el angélito -the little angel (used to refer to the soul of a child)

    el arco -the arch (sometimes placed on the grave or on the altar)

    el ataúd - the coffin

    el atole - the hot drink made of corn, water and fruit flavorings

    la calaca en papel maché -the paper maché figure

    el candelero -the candlestick

    las calacas -the skeletal figures that represent death

    la calavera -the skull

    las Calaveras - the songs and poems written about the festival

    la calavera de azúcar - the sugar skull

    las caretas - the masks worn to scare off the spirits at the end of the celebration

    las catrinas - the skeletons, dressed like rich women, who represent death

    el cementerio - the cemetery

    el cempasúchil (cempazúchil) -the Mexican marigold

    el flor de muertos -the flower of the dead (another name for the cempsúchil)

    el copal - the incense

    la cruz -the cross

    la danza de los viejitos - the dance of the old people (a humorous dance in which the dancers wear masks of old people)

    el Día de los Muertos - the Day of the Dead

    el Día Todos los Santos - All Saints’Day

    el esqueleto -the skeleton

    los dulces -the candies

    las flores -the flowers

    los gollettes - the doughnut-shaped breads, with pink sugar on them, that are placed on the altar

    la guitarra -the guitar

    la iluminación -the illumination (the ceremony in the cemetery, during which hundreds of lit candles are thought to guide the deceased souls to their altars)

    los mariachis -the Mexican musicians

    la mariposa -the butterfly

    la máscara -the mask

    el mole - the thick sauce made from chilis, sesame seeds, spices, chocolate and fruit (a food typically eaten for this holiday, as well as many other special days)

    la Noche de Duelo -the night of sorrow (November 1)

    las ofrendas - the offerings

    el pan de los muertos -the bread of the dead

    el papel picado - the paper cut-out

    los serapes - the Mexican blankets

    el tambor - the drum

    Todos Santos - All Saints, the religious holiday that extends from October 31- November 2

    la tumba -the grave