While many regard a loved one’s death with a time of mourning and a solemn celebration of the person’s life, Mexican heritage takes the celebration to new heights every year on Nov. 1 with “El dia de los muertos.”
During this time, families come together to acknowledge their deceased relatives with offerings, music and fun.
“You go and celebrate death,” said Laura Lopez, senior sociology major. “It’s a good thing. It’s a passing into another spiritual realm.”
Some believe that the spirit of the dead return to their families on Oct. 31 and leave on Nov. 2. For that reason, families celebrate the deceased life while the spirit is present during these days.
In Mexico, people parade to the cemetery and sometimes line the streets with marigolds, the flower of the dead, to tidy their relatives’ resting place. The belief is that the petals will assist in the spirit finding its way to its family.
They decorate the graves by making altars with offerings or “ofrendas.” Other flowers are also placed on the altar.
“They become incredible pieces of art,” said Daniel Loera, Latino Student Forum adviser. “Sometimes they become theme-driven.”
Such items as bread of the dead are baked in the forms of skeletons. Sugar skulls may also be brightly colored. A picture of the dead is also present in the altar. Since the spirit of the dead cannot consume the food prepared, the relatives are happy to eat the goodies for them.
A common figure that is seen during this day are the handcrafted skeletons called “Calacas.” These skeletons are intended to show an active and pleasant afterlife.
“The purpose (at the University of La Verne) is that it allows LSF members to rediscover their roots,” said Sholeh Gaviria, senior psychology major.
The University of La Verne will be able to have a taste of this celebration through the efforts of LSF. The altar should be arranged in Wilson library Wednesday with the complete display ready for viewing until Nov. 1, Loera said.
The altars will showcase what a typical “ofrenda” would look like by having club members bring pictures or artifacts that are meaningful for them and their loved ones.
“I think having it in Wilson Library attracts attention and sparks intrigue,” Loera said. “It’s pretty unfamiliar. It’s become a foreign celebration, but it’s good to re-explore historically and culturally.”
This celebration of life and death is said to date back to Aztec rituals that would last an entire month. The Aztecs believed that the dead would live in the afterlife and return to earth as hummingbirds and butterflies.
While settlers tried to stifle the Aztec rituals, the rituals have evolved with the influences of the settlers. The day is celebrated differently in different parts of Mexico, Loera said.
Andres Rivera can be reached at email@example.com.