Day of the Dead celebrates life

By Colleen Kochensparger

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The Living Arts and Science Center of Lexington will host a Day of the Dead cultural celebration for the seventh year on Nov. 1 from 5 to 9 p.m., bringing together Aztec and Catholic tradition for a celebration of passed loved ones and a cultural festival spanning the diverse population of Lexington.

“Our mission (at the Living Arts and Science Center) is to provide creative and unique experiences in the arts” for all ages, said Executive Director Heather Lyons.

This event offers opportunities to make traditional crafts such as papel picado, sugar skulls, sand murals and the calaveras skeleton masks.

Students from schools around the area will be creating their own calaveras masks by decorating cardboard skull shapes with a white background and natural materials.

More than 700 masks will adorn the walls of the Living Arts and Science Center’s gallery, in which local artist Robert Morgan has a featured exhibit, consisting of mainly sculpture, made of recycled items and in a bright, fun style to match the feeling of the event.

“You think (Day of the Dead) is going to be very dark but it’s not. It’s very positive, very humorous and colorful,” said Gallery Director Jeffery Nichols.

The origin of the holiday, Nichols said, is found in monarch butterflies. Monarchs migrate to Mexico at the same time each year and return to the same tree year after year.

“The Aztec believed it was the spirits of dead warriors coming back each year. They start and end their life cycle there,” and that’s how the idea of celebrating the dead as they briefly come back each year began, Nichols said.

Just as families traditionally build altars for Day of the Dead to celebrate the lives of those since passed, the community is invited to build altars, either alone or in groups, to honor and remember. The altars will be displayed in the Old Episcopal Burying Ground near the Christ Church Cathedral.

“For the first year, Christ Church Cathedral will have an altar decorated. Everyone’s very excited,” said the cathedral’s parishioner, Robert Voll, who is coordinating with the center to produce this event, just as the church has for all seven years of this event.

There will be a parade with local dancers and in the newly refurbished burial ground, which now includes a labyrinth and community garden.

“The Day of the Dead is anything but a morbid event,” Voll said. “It has the typical calaveras symbol, that while in itself seems spooky, it’s a symbol of ancestry connection. … It’s an

opportunity to go back to your ancestors’ connection with you and honor it, celebrate it.”

Mexican and Nicaraguan food will be sold by local vendors, and Bread of the Dead and Mexican hot chocolate will be provided for free.

With local restaurants, local dance companies and local artwork, this event brings the community together in almost every aspect.

“This is such a beautiful celebratory event,” Lyons said. “It’s such a great way to bring these communities together (to highlight Latino culture).”

There will even be community workshops on Oct. 20 and 27 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Lyons said, in which people around the community can join in the creation of papier-mâché skeleton masks. The masks can be worn in the Day of the Dead event’s candlelight parade or even to the Thriller dance downtown.

“There (are) elements of it for everybody to enjoy and participate in,” Lyons said. “I love to see how that part of the festival grows.”

Day of the Dead gives a chance “to reveal the connections of what happened in the past to make it real and viable today,” Voll said. “(It’s) an opportunity to connect with the community where we exist, in a positive way.”

Though it is often associated with the Western holiday of Halloween due to time frame and skeleton imagery, it is more like Memorial Day in concept, Lyons explained.

“When you do community events, what you find is that we’re all the same — the traditions may be different but we’re all the same,” Nichols said. “We’re all a little bit afraid of death,” and this event is a way to chase away that fear and celebrate family and ancestors.

“It’s going to be a very fun, positive family event.”