Why marigolds are the iconic Day of the Dead flower: NPR

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This Día de los Muertos altar on display in a public shrine in Oaxaca, Mexico, shows several ofrendas, including cempasúchil – the Aztec name for the marigold flower originated in Mexico.

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This Día de los Muertos altar on display in a public shrine in Oaxaca, Mexico, shows several ofrendas, including cempasúchil – the Aztec name for the marigold flower originated in Mexico.

Gabriel Perez / Getty Images

The musky smell of marigolds, or cempasúchil, were dense throughout the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles on Saturday, and Angie Jimenez was impatient.

“I love that smell and I love that it floats in the air,” she told NPR.

Jimenez is the altar coordinator for the the annual Día de los Muertos of the cemetery, or Day of the Dead, celebrates and oversees the facilities of ofrendas made up of families commemorating their deceased loved ones.

This year, due to COVID-19, that means limiting the number of altars from over 100 to just 80. Yet Jimenez expects this to include thousands of bright orange flowers, whose pungent scent comes from their leaves and stems.

“An altar just isn’t complete without them. And if you believe what the Aztecs believed, then your ancestors need the scent to find their way back to you,” she said. She will add a few dozen flowers to a personal family altar for her father and sister, who are buried in the cemetery.

“Our cempasúchil the display will be small in comparison, ”she said, noting that some of the larger altars may include thick, carefully woven flower garlands measuring 50 feet or more, draped over elaborate altar structures.

“I’m sure some will have thousands of flowers and when you get close to them Boom! The smell will hit you right in the face,” Jimenez said with a laugh.

“You either love him or hate him because he is unlike anything else. Lucky for me, I love him.”


This image shows how Día de los Muertos is observed and celebrated. The deceased are remembered by placing flowers and candles in their cemeteries.

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This image shows how Día de los Muertos is observed and celebrated. The deceased are remembered by placing flowers and candles in their cemeteries.

Gabriel Perez / Getty Images

The origins of Día de los Muertos, which begin on November 1 and end on November 2, date back several centuries to Mexico and, to a lesser extent, to a few other countries in Latin America.

It is deeply rooted in pre-Hispanic Aztec rituals related to the goddess Mictecacihuatl, or Lady of the Dead, who allowed spirits to return to earth to commune with family members. This tradition was mixed with the Roman Catholic observance of All Saints’ Day by the Spaniards when they conquered Mexico.

The celebration involves the creation of an altar with offerings including photos of the dead, candles, bottles of mezcal and tequila, and food, sugar skulls and the cempas̼chil Рthe Aztec name for the marigold flower originated in Mexico.

The scent of bright orange and yellow flowers is said to lead souls from their burial place to their family homes. The cheerful hues also add to the festive nature of the party, which, while shrouded in death, is not gloomy but festive.


Bob Mellano, vice president of Mellano & Co., one of California’s largest flower farms, says the company has dramatically increased production and marigold harvest due to increasing demand in recent years.

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Bob Mellano, vice president of Mellano & Co., one of California’s largest flower farms, says the company has dramatically increased production and marigold harvest due to increasing demand in recent years.

Sergio Mendoza Hochmann / Getty Images

Over the years, the allure of marigolds at this time of year has spread far beyond the Latin market.

“It’s definitely an item that is in demand for sure, for sure,” Bob Mellano, vice president of wholesale operations for Mellano & Co., one of California’s largest flower farms, told NPR.

“And that’s about the only time of the year when worries are produced [in the U.S.] because of the request of the Day of the Dead. ”

He noted that the family business, which operates 450 acres, has dramatically increased its marigold production in recent years. “It has to do with the growing Hispanic and Mexican population here,” and he suspects the arrival of Día de los Muertos in popular culture.

“I don’t know where it started, but maybe there is a correlation to the Disney movie from a few years ago,” he speculated, referring to Disney Pixar 2017. coco. The animated film, which takes place in Mexico during the country’s Día de los Muertos, was a international crash at the box office and introduced the public around the world to the holiday and its customs.

“Maybe that’s why you see worries everywhere now. Before, they were more of a specialist item and you only saw them for a short time,” Mellano said. As of October 1, he said, “they are indispensable for wholesalers, florists and even grocery stores.”

Mellano said it was reminiscent of the poinsettia’s explosion in popularity over Christmas. “If you go back 50 years and see where that poinsettia consumption was, it was nothing compared to what poinsettia consumption is today,” he said.


Andi Xoch, founder and owner of Latinx With Plants in East Los Angeles, said the growing popularity of the party has made it “easier for young Latinx or first- or second-generation Browns to accept their heritage and be proud “.

Magally Miranda / Latinx with plants


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Magally Miranda / Latinx with plants


Andi Xoch, founder and owner of Latinx With Plants in East Los Angeles, said the growing popularity of the party has made it “easier for young Latinx or first- or second-generation Browns to accept their heritage and be proud “.

Magally Miranda / Latinx with plants

Andi Xoch, founder of Latinx With Plants in East Los Angeles, told NPR she was concerned about the borderline or sometimes outright commercialization and cultural appropriation of what was once an indigenous holiday. But there is an advantage, she says.

Because it is now part of the mainstream culture, “It has become easier for young Latinx or Browns of the first or second generation to accept their heritage and be proud,” said Xoch.

While growing up, she has seen many of her peers reject more indigenous aspects of Latino culture in an attempt to assimilate, now, she says, they embrace her.

“Over the past few weeks, a lot of my clients who come for trouble, who are mostly young Latinx women, have told me that this is their first time celebrating Día de los Muertos. So they adopt now have that tradition and own it and I’ll take it any day, ”Xoch said.


People visit a community altar decorated with marigolds in Grand Park in Los Angeles. The mother and daughter of artists Chicana Ofelia and Rosanna Esparza have overseen the design of the Grand Park altar since 2013. It is one of 11 huge altars made in collaboration between Grand Park and Self Help Graphics, an organization featuring showcasing Chicano and Latino artists and social justice. .

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People visit a community altar decorated with marigolds in Grand Park in Los Angeles. The mother and daughter of artists Chicana Ofelia and Rosanna Esparza have overseen the design of the Grand Park altar since 2013. It is one of 11 huge altars made in collaboration between Grand Park and Self Help Graphics, an organization featuring showcasing Chicano and Latino artists and social justice. .

Damien Dovarganes / AP

The Cempasúchil exhibits are also a very non-offensive and appropriate way for anyone to participate in the festivities, she added.

“You know, people who aren’t Latinx walk a fine line of cultural appropriation.” It is tempting, she said, for whites to paint their faces like a calavera or dress in a Catrina costume.

“But that tradition is not theirs, no matter how cool or commercialized it becomes. And once it becomes a trend, it is no longer valued or respected,” Xoch said.

But flowers, especially those that resemble the golden hues of the sun, are always appropriate.

“They are a lovely way to remember someone who is gone and they are happy, so it also adds that element of beauty in death,” Xoch said.


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