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October 31, 2007 > Dia de Los Muertos - The Day of the Dead

Dia de Los Muertos - The Day of the Dead

By Praveena Raman

Mexicans celebrate Dia de Los Muertos or The Day of the Dead on November 1 and 2 as days of remembrance for children and adults. Variations of this festival are also observed in other Latin American countries. This festival is observed with joyous celebrations, not morbidity, as Latinos believe in the continuity of life and that death is not the end but the beginning of a new era.

Dia De Los Muertos has a complex history with its origin traced back to Aztec times when it was observed during the month of Miccailhuitontli. The rituals were presided over by the goddess Mictecacihuatl (Lady of the Dead) and dedicated to the major Aztec war deity, Huitzilopochtli ("Sinister Hummingbird") and to dead children and adults. Miccailhuitontli fell around July in the Gregorian calendar; the Spanish later moved the celebration to November to coincide with the Christian observance of All Saints Day and All Souls Day. The present day Dia de Los Muertos is a mixture of aboriginal and Christian rituals.

On November 1& 2, Mexicans visit cemeteries and clean the graves of their loved ones, decorating them with offrendas or offerings. These offerings include orange Marigolds which are also called the "Flower of the Dead," toys for children's graves, liquors like tequila or atole, candies and trinkets. People often take picnic lunches and have a drink at the graves as an offering to departed loved ones. Altars or shrines with a Christian cross are often built at homes and decorated with flowers, candles and photographs of loved ones. Offrendas at homes usually consist of candied pumpkins, pan de los muertos or bread of the dead, sugar skulls and drinks like atole. People gather around the altars and share anecdotes about their loved ones and pray for them. It is believed that the souls of the loved ones visit their families during this festival. Many families also leave a pillow and blanket out for their loved ones to rest during their visit.

"When we were growing up, my mother used to make an altar decorated with flowers and photographs of our loved ones" says Beatrice Duarte of Fremont, "but now we participate in the celebrations at our church, Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Niles. They have an altar decorated with flowers and photographs of church members' loved ones. There is also a mass where they are remembered. It is a beautiful festival and brings community members together." Community celebrations in the bay area include parades, exhibitions and building community altars.

If you are interested:

1) Ohlone College: Louis Meager Art Gallery, 43600 Mission Boulevard
Fremont, presently has an exhibition "Dias De Los Muertos" presenting an ofrenda with authentic artifacts in honor of the Mexican celebration of their ancestors. The exhibition continues until Friday, November 9, 2007. Call (510) 659-6000 for more information.

2) Day of the Dead celebration at Sun Gallery, 1015 "E" St., Hayward. November 3, 4:30 - 9:00 pm. Hosted by local and high school artists in collaboration with the Hayward Historical Society. Food, music, dance, face-painting, and sugar-skull decorating; special dance by Ballet Folkloriko Tlapalli. Call (510) 581-4050 for more details. Exhibit continues through November 24, 2007.

3) "Ancient Roots/Urban Journeys: Expressions for Días de los Muertos" Great Hall Low Bay, Oakland Museum of California (1000 Oak @ 10th Street, near Lake Merritt, in Oakland). This year the skulls, skeletons, marigolds, and candles mix it up with low-rider and hip-hop culture. The exhibition continues until December 2, 2007. Call (510) 238-2200 for more information.

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