Story By: CHRISTIAN GONZALEZ
West Valley City, Utah -The Utah Multicultural Center hosted its 4th annual Día de Los Muertos celebration on Saturday, October 28, 2017. The festivities included traditional Mexican dances and a large variety of family-friendly activities such as skull-face painting and a dress-up contest. There was also a specific area where visitors could observe altars created in remembrance of loved ones who had passed away. “We want to make sure we don’t forget all of the good things our loved ones did while they were alive, day of the dead is way to let their stories live on through our generations,” said Francisco Perez, an attendee of the event. The event highlighted various aspects of Mexican culture and served to represent loved ones who have passed away by remembering the lives they lived.
Although this celebration was held on Oct. 28, 2017, the actual dates for the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico are November 1-2. Beatriz Aguilera, now a 71-year-old woman, has been visiting the cemetery for el Día de Muertos, going as far back as she can remember. For Aguilera, it has become less a celebration and more a day of remembrance. She still retains the vivid memories of her past when she would visit her great grandfather’s grave at age ten. “I remember helping my grandma prepare a table filled with things that were my grandpa Chema’s. At the center of the table we would always place portrait of them from their wedding,” said Aguilera. She recalls waking up early to help her grandmother prepare her dead grandfathers favorite food, along with pan de muerto (a spanish bread). “After preparing food all morning, we would use my grandmother’s finest silverware and carefully place the food on the altar along with belongings that represented the wonderful life he lived. It seemed as if for that night we were expecting him to join us for dinner,” Aguilera explained. As the years pass, the traditions of this holiday allow her to remember both of her grandparents, her older brother who passed away at a young age, and her mother who died a few years ago. Every November 2, she travels to the cemetery with her children and grandchildren to spend time with all of those who have passed on. Aguilera and her family use this day to celebrate the life of their loved ones and remember the legacy they left behind.
Many of the altars at the Utah Multicultural celebration were similarly decorated. They use flowers, candles, food, and short paragraphs describing the lives of each individual on display for all to see. Also showcased on the altars were statues of the Virgin Mary, who it is said watched over the graves and protect the spirits of the deceased as they travel through the after life. Many of the items displayed on the altars may only seem relevant to the individual but one thing we can learn about this celebration is that nearly every object holds a symbolic meaning.
The flower “cempasúchil” or in English, the marigold, is known for its powerful scent and vivid bright yellow color. There is much speculation regarding the purpose of this flower. However, the common belief derives from the ancient Aztecs, who believed the bright yellow represented the sun, and that the flower could guide the deceased in the dark using its petals. Today the flower is used to decorate graves, with its bright color, as well as to guide the spirits of the deceased toward their families during the night.
The previously mentioned pan de muerto or in English, “bread of the dead” represents the human skull. It contains four intersecting protrusions that are shaped liked bones. They are said to represent the four corners of the universe. The circular shape of the bread represents the never-ending cycle between life and death. Finally, one thing you will notice at almost every cemetery when celebrating the Day of the
Dead is a very strong odor. Copal, a resin made from tropical trees, fill the air with its strong aroma when it burns. “The smell is said to guide the spirits of the dead to their altars and purify them of any evil,” said Javier Peña, a local dancer familiar with Aztec traditions.
Peña explained that although many who attend the Day of the Dead celebration are not familiar with the symbolic meanings, he said, the most important thing to remember and celebrate our dead. “We want our children to remember the importance of our Mexican heritage and, although we no longer live in Mexico, remembering our ancestors is as equally important to us as the relationships we have with the living.” said Francisco’s wife, Fatima Perez. Both have been celebrating this holiday since they were children. The knowledge they have of their ancestors has helped them live better lives, said the Perezes. Overall, Dia de Los Muertos is a day is to remember loved ones and the lives they lived, and the festival was designed as a celebration of life more so than one of death.