Celebration gives the dead their day

By C.J. Conklin

Ten women in long red dresses with gold sequins danced and shook maracas to the rhythm of traditional Mexican music outside The Living Arts and Science Center yesterday to celebrate the Day of the Dead.

The center hosted its annual Festival del Día de los Muertos for the Mexican holiday that honors the deceased through celebration.

“It’s beneficial to get to know the cultures around you because the reality is that we don’t all live in bubbles,” said Sara Jones, a UK graduate student who majored in art education.

The holiday originates from the migration of the Monarch butterfly, which makes the trip south to Mexico for the winter only once because of its short lifespan.

Every year, a new group of butterflies visits the same tree, leading to the belief that the souls of the deceased journey home even after death. In the Mexican culture, the dead are only truly gone when their journey is no longer remembered or celebrated.

At yesterday’s festival, a sand sculpture of a skeleton decorated with powdered paint and flowers sat in the center of the outdoor area.

Activities included crafting paper flowers out of tissue paper with the help of instructors and decorating sugar skulls, and participants could also try a variety of traditional dishes.

Local artist Bob Morgan and Mexico native Jacobo Aragon created altars, said Heather Lyons, executive director of the Living Arts and Science Center. Traditionally, gifts are given at the altar to represent those deceased.

The altars, decorated with flowers, candles, edible sugar skulls and other traditional foods, were placed in homes, public places and particular cemeteries for the celebration.

A parade-like procession, led by dancers and guest guitarist José Rivera, proceeded to the Old Episcopal Burying Ground. Each person walking in the ceremony held a candle representing a person who has died, Jones said, and participants were invited to place photos or mementos of lost ones on a community altar.

To raise awareness of the holiday, some students participated in constructing and handing out paper flowers at Macy’s on Oct. 28, Jones said.

Customers respected the tradition, she said, and many children enjoyed making their own paper flowers.

Sophomore elementary education major Britanni Cassady said the center has been hosting occasional Day of the Dead exhibits to bring the community together for years.

“I know that there is a growing Hispanic population in our society, so it’s cool to see a piece of their culture,” she said.

Last year they expanded the idea and made the celebration an annual event with multiple activities to showcase the different aspects of the holiday.

“The celebration brings a new experience to remembering the deceased,” Cassady said. “It brings a happy experience to the deceased, rather than the sad experiences that we associate with them like Memorial Day.”