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October 7, 2009 > Days of the Dead

Days of the Dead

By Simon Wong
Photos By courtesy of Fernando Hernandez

Days of the Dead, or Los Dias de los Meurtos, is a traditional Mexican holiday honoring the dead and is celebrated annually on All Saints Day and All Souls Day (November 1 and 2). It is a time to rejoice and remember loved ones who have died.

Each Fall, Monarch butterflies migrate south to Mexico for the winter. Locals welcome their return believing they bear the spirits of their departed. Many believe it is easier for the souls of the departed to visit the living on All Souls Day.

In most parts of Mexico, children and infants are honored on November 1, Day of the Innocents (Dia de los Inocentes), and adults on November 2, Day of the Dead (Dia de los Meurtos).

Private altars or small shrines are erected in the home and festooned with flowers and offerings (ofrendas) of the favorite foods, beverages and memorabilia and a picture of the deceased. Candles are also lit as part of the remembrance. A Christian cross, statue or image of the Blessed Virgin Mary are usually included.

Families visit the cemetery and tend to the graves of their loved ones and adorn them with orange marigolds, or the flower of the dead (flor de meurto), which are thought to attract souls of the dead to offerings placed on the grave by the families.

The skull (calavera) is associated with the holiday and reproduced in chocolate and sugar. Sugar skulls are given to the living and the dead. Pan de meurto, a sweet, egg bread, is fashioned as simple rounds or skulls and often decorated with frosting to resemble bones.

Celebration of Los Dias de los Meurtos is rooted in Aztec culture and has evolved with the Christian holy days of All Saints Day and All Souls Day. The Aztecs believed the spirits of their dead returned as hummingbirds and butterflies; relics show spirits linked with the Monarch butterfly.

In the US, communities with a sizeable Mexican population hold similar celebrations to those in Mexico. In others, artistic celebrations observe the festival.

Fernando Hernandez, curator of the last year's Days of the Dead exhibition at the Oakland Museum, is managing preparations for The Art of Remembrance: Days of the Dead 2009 exhibition at Hayward's Meek Mansion from October 10 to November 8.

According to Hernandez "setting the exhibit in the historic house will add the defining touch to the altars and our unique Dias de los Muertos columbarium, creating a Victorian cocoon for the artists' visions of honoring the dead and welcoming them back amongst the living and into the Meek's extraordinary surroundings."

Hayward's Sun Gallery will host curator Orlando Somozo's Day of the Dead - Dearly Beloved exhibition.

Exhibitions, community celebrations & workshops

Art of Remembrance: Days of the Dead 2009 Opening
10 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Saturday, October 10
Meek Mansion

Day of the Dead: A Passion for Life
6 p.m.
Thursday, October 15
Meek Mansion

Days of the Dead Community Celebration
10 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Saturday, October 24
Meek Park
Free admission

The Art of Remembrance Curator's Tour
6 p.m.
Thursday, October 29
Meek Mansion

Admission to Meek Mansion:
Adults $8, students, seniors and children $5.
$2 discount for Hayward Area Historical Society members.
$20 for four-ticket Value Package for 2 adults and 2 students, seniors, or children.

Meek Mansion and Meek Park are located at Hampton and Boston Roads between Mission Boulevard and Meekland Avenue just north of downtown Hayward.

For exhibit hours, group or school tour information, or to learn how your company can be a part of the festivities, call the Alison Wenz, Development Director, Hayward Area Historical Society at (510) 581 0223 or visit

Day of the Dead - Dearly Beloved
October 30 - November 21
Sun Gallery
1015 E St., Hayward
(510) 581 4050

School & Group tours are available at the Sun Gallery for $125 for up to 33 students. The 90-minute tour includes an art project. Free workshops for families November 7, 14 and 21 by artists Rena Dein and Daniel Panko.

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