Tag Archives: Dead

Greek American Ghost Memorate

Text: The informant lived in a small apartment in the Bronx. Due to the neighborhood’s known risks, his mother would meticulously lock the door, a practice the informant deemed necessary yet somewhat excessive. Over 33 years, the informant remembers the door never being left unlocked or open without explicit reason. He recalls even if he was moving back from college, his mother would lock the door in between each trip. However, the day his father passed away the informant discovered the door wide open twice, despite no signs of a break-in or any items being disturbed or stolen. The informant also explains there is an old Greek tradition that he heard about from friends that when someone dies, a male family member has to stand outside of the house for a while to prevent the soul from returning to the house.

Context: The Informant experienced this in 2001. He believes that his dad did come back into the house. He viewed it as a good thing though, somewhat contradictory to the original belief that you had to stop it from happening. Instead he took comfort in it. The informant is Christian and believes the spirit stayed around for a bit just to impart good byes to his family. 

Analysis: I think this piece reflects the strong religious belief in the afterlife among the greek population, Christianity is one of the defining parts of their culture, though this story isn’t really christian though it still reflects the belief in an afterlife. I attribute the story, in part, to the Mysticism inherent in the religious beliefs of Greek Orthodoxy. I think you can also gleam the traditional gender roles from this story as well, with the aurdmian of the house required to be male, Greece being a very traditional society, this doesn’t surprise me

Dia de los Muertos

“I think you know about the Day of the Dead, Dia de los Muertos, which is a big deal in Mexico. Usually it happens in late October or early November, and the whole day is a celebration of those who aren’t with us–when I was back in Mexico, there were a lot of rituals, like how we’d build altars for the deceased and offer flowers, drinks, and food. Otherwise, it was a nice moment of celebrating rather than mourning the dead, which I don’t see an equivalent for in American culture.”


This conversation was conducted in person with my roommate in our shared room, and I transcribed the text from an audio recording of our conversation.


This conversation reveals a bit more about the origins and function of the festival—the origin stems from the Catholic church, and then due to other political and social factors in Mexico, became separated from that and eventually became its own separate thing, as a way to honor ancestors. The idea that there isn’t really an equivalent celebration in American culture further contextualizes in Mexican culture and tradition.

El Día de los Muertos


S: “[T]here’s Día de los Muertos which is Day of the Dead. So for that we like have an alter in our house, which is basically just like pictures of all our dead relatives and we light candles and then we… pray to God that there like in a better place. A lot of the times we go to like the cemetery and we bring like food, their favorite food and we place it at like their grave and like tombstones and that’s you offering up the dead person’s favorite food. I forget what the reasoning is, you might want to research into that, but it’s like so they have something to remind them of their old life, comfort food? I’m not sure but you take their favorite food to their grave site.”

He later told me he celebrates it on November 2nd, but November 1st is celebrated too however that’s only for saints/angels.


S is a Mexican American born in Long Beach, California. His parents are from Mexico. S celebrated this holiday since he was little as his parents taught it to him with one of his earliest memories of Día de los Muertos was celebrating it with and for his grandmother. S’s take on Día de los Muertos is it’s about preserving history and keeping traditions alive. 

S: “I like to think about it in terms of like when someone passes there’s a chance they’re not going to be remembered by like history you know? Like so few people get remembered by like the things they contributed to the world. Even historical figures, no one really likes… they just learn about them because you have to, no one really remembers as much. And when it comes to your family, you’re the only person who’s going to remember them. In terms of history, you know, they’re just going to be washed away like they didn’t really exist, so I guess it’s up to you to keep their memory alive and just make sure like the things they did while they were alive matters to you and it means something as a way to keep them like they’re still here, you know? Cause when you die, you’re gone, but your memory lives on and I guess that’s a way to make sure their memory doesn’t also die and they still live on through that which I guess is a big part of Day of the Dead and stuff like that.”


Día de los Muertos is very much about honoring and remembering loved ones. They can be for family members, friends, idols, etc. however important ones are mostly for family members. As S explained, people celebrate this holiday to keep their loved ones alive in spirit as despite being physically gone. The concept of offering foods at graves and alters with pictures of the passed away is similar to the idea Valk explained with ghosts haunting family members and being territorial. Though the spirits of those who passed away here are tied to their graves and alter photos and are not hostile but almost guardian-like. 

Dia de Los Muertos

Informant information
Nationality: Afro-Latina American  
Occupation: Teacher 
Residence: California
Date of Performance/Collection: Apr 9, 2022
Primary Language: English 
Other Language(s): Spanish

My informant is my co-worker who is Afro-Latina and while sitting at the front desk, we started talking about Dia de Los Muertos.

X-  Whatever you put on your altar is supposed to– it’s like– so on your altar, you’re putting, ideally, you’re putting objects and food and bread that were like favorite dishes from the person who died, so you’re celebrating the person who died and usually celebrate on the first and second. The first I believe is for the children or that’s the second, the second is children,  the first for the adults, and what happens is on the first, the veil comes down, and that allows for the souls to pass back onto the land of the living and they are supposed to come and see the altar and eat the food and drink the liquor and you just celebrate with your family members or whoever and that celebration in the evening. And cultures go– go down to the graveyard and go build their alters around the gravestone then they go back to their houses and they eat all the food and they celebrate the life of the person who passed because day of the dead isn’t about mourning, it’s about celebrating them and so you’ll put their photos of who died and it’s it’s it’s really just like a celebration of living like a grand party. 

I didn’t know much about Dia de Los Muertos before having this conversation with X, but I learned a lot in understanding that it is not a day of mourning but of celebration and I think that’s really beautiful.

Cardinal for a loved one

BACKGROUND: My informant, MP, was born in the US but as a child, MP traveled with her parents all over South America. Her parents share an Irish heritage and the following piece is one belief that was passed down from her parents to her.

CONTEXT: This piece is from a conversation I had with MP about her family’s beliefs.

MP: Also, I grew up being told by my parents that if you see a cardinal, it’s like a sign from a loved one who has passed.

Me: Do you know why a cardinal?

MP: I think it’s supposed to be that the cardinal carries [the deceased’s] spirit or something.

THOUGHTS: I think in many cultures there is either a resounding fear or acceptance of the dead. In this case, I feel like MP’s community is more accepting of the dead. Where the appearance of the dead in other forms may be unsettling to some, in this case, it seems like something that brings comfort to the deceased’s family. I think part of that is the form in which the deceased is returning. I definitely think a cardinal — a pretty peaceful bird — may be less threatening than a decomposing phantom.