By Lynn Blamires feature writer for My Local Utah
Celebrating the lives of past ancestors has been practiced by the people of Mexico for some 3,000 years. The celebration, known as the Day of the Dead originally landed on the ninth month of the Aztec calendar and was observed for the entire month.
Today, the month-long festivities have been condensed to three days and are known as The Days of the Dead: All Hallows Eve on October 31, All Saints Day, also known as the Day of the Innocents or Day of the Children, on November 1, and the Day of the Dead on November 2.
Awareness of this festival has broadened awareness with the showing of the movie Coco. Modern-day celebrations are gaining acceptance with that increased awareness. My research found conflicts, however, concerning the days of the dead. Some left out October 31 as you will see in reading the following:
The Day of the Dead Is Not the Mexican Version of Halloween
In an article by Logan Ward published by National Geographic, on October 26, 2017, Ward made it clear that Día de los Muertos was not a Mexican version of Halloween. He stated, “The two annual events differ greatly in traditions and tone. Whereas Halloween is a dark night of terror and mischief, Day of the Dead festivities unfolds over two days in an explosion of color and life-affirming joy. Sure, the theme is death, but the point is to demonstrate love and respect for deceased family members.”
A Celebration of Life and Death
During these days of celebration revelers don makeup and costumes, have parties, hold parades, sing and dance, and make offerings in remembrance of lost loved ones. It is a celebration of life and death and while it had its beginning in Mexico, today it is celebrated in Latin American communities all over the world. The more we understand this feast of the senses, the more we will grow to appreciate it.
In ancient times, the people of Mexico considered it disrespectful to mourn the dead. Death was a natural phase of life. They considered their dead relatives as still a part of the community, alive in memory and spirit. During Día de los Muertos, those loved ones who have passed away are remembered and honored in a special way. The celebration takes place around the fall maize harvest.
The Ofrendas, or Altars Honor the Dead
An important part of the celebration is the ofrenda or altar. It is decorated with candles, pictures of deceased loved ones, incense, and food.
Foods known to be favorites of those loved ones are prepared as a part of the feasting that goes on during the Day of the Dead. These foods are also placed on these alters because it is believed that those loved ones who come back from the spirit world need refreshment for the arduous journey.
Pan de Muerto or bread of the dead is among the foods found on the ofrenda. It is bread that is sweet featuring anise seeds and decorated with bones and skulls made from the dough.
Marigolds are the flowers of choice and will be seen decorating the ofrenda. Incense made from tree resin transmits praise, and prayers and purifies the area around the altar.
Catrina – A Symbol of the Day
The Calavera Catrina has become a prominent part of the Day of the Dead celebrations. Calavera means skull and Catrina is slang for rich. An early 20th-century cartoonist created the skeletal character that later morphed into the female Calavera Catrina or elegant skull. Over 500 women gathered in Mexico City on November 1, 2014, to set a Guinness World Record for the largest gathering of women dressed as La Catrina.
Costumes Are Part of the Fun
Día de los Muertos is a social holiday celebrated in the streets late into the night. People dress in colorful costumes and paint their faces to look like skeletons. The singing and dancing is accompanied by noisemakers. No one sleeps during this festival, not even the dead.
Día De Los Muertos en Ogden
Ogden is celebrating the Day of the Dead in a big way this year. Scheduled for October 29, 2022, at the Union Station, this is the fourth year for this event, and each year it has become bigger and better.
Hosting the festival is Nurture the Creative Mind, a nonprofit organization that empowers and establishes self-value in youth through creativity while developing marketable skills. Director, Amir Jackson said, “Our purpose in hosting this event is to bring culture into the community.” Ogden has a large Latino and Hispanic population representing 32 percent of the total. This celebration helps Jackson’s organization accomplish its purpose.
Jackson’s excitement in describing this upcoming event is contagious. The festival will include 22 vendors selling crafts specific to the culture and the purpose of the celebration.
Food trucks will offer a variety of cuisine to satisfy a broad palate. Music will fill the air from several musical groups including – Rumba Libre, Groupe Clave, and Mariachi Zavala. Ballet Folklorico will also present dancing consistent with the culture in a most colorful way.
This just keeps getting better. Fredo Rivera, the owner of Legacy Tattoo is hosting a car show. An art exhibit made up of contributions by members of the Latino and Hispanic communities will also be on display. Twenty-five family altars will be accompanied by a large community ofrenda that will make it possible for all to participate in the remembrance and celebration of the lives of their ancestors.
To broaden awareness of the celebration, Jackson is placing five 4½-foot fiberglass skulls around downtown Ogden in the weeks before. That number will increase to 25 in the coming years and will be hand-painted by community members. Attended last year by over 4000 people celebrating the Day of the Dead, Jackson is planning on attendance this year being even greater.
Jackson further explained, “The festival will culminate with a candlelight vigil. Some words will be spoken by community poets and then we will have a moment of silence for our loved ones who have passed.”
Celebrations begin at 1:00 p.m. and continue until 9:00 p.m. More information can be found at Nurture the Creative Mind.