The Mexican tradition of Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a celebration that spans centuries. In its trajectory through the ages, the celebration has received influences from indigenous peoples, Catholicism, regional differences, and the creativity of those who construct the ofrenda, or altar.
Several elements are typically included on an ofrenda. Photographs of the departed are the centerpiece, as the ofrenda is built to honor and to invite those who have passed to the other world. These photos of the deceased are displayed alongside candles, saints’ pictures, skulls, offerings of food and drink, marigolds, incense, paper cut-outs or papel picado, salt, personal items, crosses, nuts and seeds, and water.
A special bread, pan de muertos, is provided to the deceased and to the living who visit an ofrenda. Pan de muertos is an essential element that has been recorded as originating in the 16th century contact between Spanish and Aztec civilizations. José Luis Curiel Monteagudo, in his book Azucarados Afanes, Dulces y Panes, says, “To eat pan de muertos is for the Mexican a true pleasure, considering the cannibalism of bread and sugar. The phenomena is treated with respect and irony. Defying death, they make fun of her by eating it.” As with the pan de Muertos, each of the items on the ofrenda have their own symbolism that relate to the deceased and their journey back to the living realm.
The three-day celebration of Día de los Muertos takes place on October 31, November 1, and November 2. In New York State, several celebrations are planned in many different locations. A few locations are the following:
- New York Folklore, 129 Jay Street, Schenectady presents an ofrenda, designed by community advocate Ana Lorena Diana, with support from the Schenectady Initiative Program and the Upstate Theater Coalition for a Fair Game. New York Folklore’s ofrenda will be available for viewing from October 31 through November 7, 2020.
- Glow Traditions, in Western New York, invites the public to their ofrenda which will be on view from October 27th through November 1 at the Mariachi de Oro Mexican Grill in Medina, NY, in collaboration with Leonel Rosario. In addition, visitors are invited to the virtual celebration and resource page at https://www.goart.org/glow-traditions/
- Arts Mid-Hudson, Poughkeepsie, is partnering with the Poughkeepsie Public Library and the City of Poughkeepsie for Día de los Muertos programming. Information and a calendar of events can be found at the Poughkeepsie Public Library https://poklib.org/day-of-the-dead-celebration-celebracion-del-dia-de-los-muertos/
- ArtsWestchester, in collaboration with with Edgar and Juana E. Pinyol and the White Plains Public Library, presented Dia De Los Muertos, a program featuring artists from the Mexican, Paraguayan, Bolivian, Ecuadorian, Guatemalan, and Peruvian communities of Peekskill and White Plains. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OUvO9A8uH-c&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR2vjlvfGiqWUmINMLzIHYDvnNWrxYrkMfyHTTeD0jeCoc6pkdZZxgxe20A
- Bronx Documentary Center and Mano a Mano: Mexican Culture Without Borders, 614 Cortland Avenue Bronx, NY have created a special “COVID-19” ofrenda, dedicated to those who have lost their lives to COVID-19.
Finally, visit the web-pages of NYSCA Living Traditions to view videos and other programmatic materials related to Día de los Muertos in New York, including building an ofrenda and making a traditional Oaxacan sand painting.
For more information or to view images and/or videos relating to Día de los Muertos, visit this beautiful visual documentary site of Dane Strom:
Image courtesy of Aurelia Fernandez