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All about Dia de los Muertos

Written by Star Diavolikis

Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is an important part of Mexican culture that CWU is going to celebrate in the beginning of November. Dia de los Muertos is a two-day holiday that honors and celebrates those who have passed on in a family by creating ofrendas, or offering altars, making the late members’ favorite foods and drinks then laying out petals of marigold flowers.

How Dia de los Muertos is traditionally celebrated

According to dayofthedead.holiday, the holiday itself is spread into two days, with Nov. 1 being specified as Dia de los Angelitos. At 12 a.m., it is said the spirits of all deceased children reunite with their families at this time. The ofrenda will have the child’s favorite snacks, toys and so on along with photos of them in hopes of encouraging the children to visit.

At midnight on Nov. 2, the ofrendas change to a more adult-theme to honor the lives of departed adults, known as Dia de los Difuntos. This may include having tequila, mezcal and more on the ofrenda. Traditionally, families will play games together and dance along with a band’s music.

At noon on the same day, it turns to the well-known Dia de los Muertos. It is considered the ending of the celebration, where cemetery visits are made, community members dress up with calavera (Skeleton) painted faces and may have parades in the streets. At the graves, families will decorate the graves with gifts, marigold flowers and sugar skulls with the departed person’s name on it. Families may also clean the grave stone during this visit.

Marigolds and their importance

Marigolds are believed to be “the pathways that guide the spirits to their ofrendas.” These flowers symbolize beauty and show the “fragility of life.”

Their strong aroma and bright color is said to be enticing to the spirits, which guides them home. They can be laid out on paths leading to the home, as well as scattered all over the ofrenda.

The origins of Dia de los Muertos

According to history.com, the earliest roots are traced back to the Aztec people who resided in what is now central Mexico. They had used skulls to honor the dead a millennium before celebrations began to happen, which created skulls being a key symbol in this tradition.

There was a festival held by the Aztecs dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl, who is the “lady of the dead.” It is said she “watches over the bones of the dead and swallows the stars during the day.”

Previously, the Aztecs had celebrations that happened throughout the year, but the Spanish conquest in the 16th Century changed this. The Catholic Church moved all of these celebrations and rituals to the Catholic dates that honor All Saints Day and All Souls Day, Nov. 1 and 2. The previously used symbols and traditions that honored the dead joined with unofficial Catholic ideas of an afterlife to create Dia de los Muertos.

Who is La Catrina?

When looking at Dia de los Muertos celebrations, sometimes you may see a person dressed as a female calavera with luxurious features such as a large fancy hat, gorgeous gown and heavy makeup. This is La Catrina, a parody character created by printmaker and lithographer Jose Guadalupe Posada. Posada created La Catrina’s character to mock those around him who wanted to look more European rather than Mexican.

Posada created satire using skeletal character designs that mocked politicians and the upper class, which is where La Catrina came from. La Catrina became an embodiment of Death herself and is now an iconic symbol of Dia de los Muertos.

An original sketch of La Catrina, created by Jose Guadalupe Posada.

How CWU is celebrating Dia de los Muertos

The Diversity and Equity Center (DEC) will be hosting events starting Nov. 1 and ending on Nov. 6 to celebrate different aspects of Dia de los Muertos. On Nov. 1, there will be “Coco & Cocoa,” where the Monday Movie Madness movie is “Coco,” and the iconic Abuelita’s cocoa will be served.

“Coco” is a movie about a multi-generational Mexican family exploring the culture and traditions of Dia de los Muertos. The main character, Miguel, wants to pursue music even though there is a ban on music within his family. This is due to his great-great-grandmother being left behind by a musician because he valued his musical career over his family, so in turn, they refuse any sort of music to be in their life and instead focus on their shoe making business. Miguel goes through a series of events that land him in the Land of the Dead, then he must work his way back to the living. Bring some tissues – this movie gets sad.

A listing of the "Monday Movie Madness" event, with Coco being the featured movie. This is on Nov. 1 at the SURC Theatre at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.

On Nov. 5, there will be sugar skull making and a sand tapestry downtown at Gallery One from 5:00 – 7:00 p.m., however, the sand tapestry will be available to view throughout the whole month of November. Gallery one is located at 408 North Pearl Street in Ellensburg. The tapete y ofrenda, sand tapestry and alter, are made by Oaxacan artist Fulgencio Lazo. Lazo had a studio in Seattle and Oaxaca, has had 50 plus shows throughout US, Mexico, Japan and France, along with many pieces in public collections.

A student is squatted, working on a sand tapestry located in the SURC. The sand tapestry consists of skeletons on a pink background surrounded by flowers.
Previously located in the SURC where students could interact with the process of making it, the sand tapestry will be in Gallery One this year instead.

Lastly, on Nov. 6 from 6:00 – 10:00 p.m. in the SURC Ballroom, Dia de los Muertos will be celebrated with craft making, free food and traditional Aztec and folklorico dances. The dances will be performed by Danza’s Multiculturales from Wenatchee! The event will end with a baile, or dance, by Los Faraones del Norte.

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