How to celebrate Día de los Muertos in Seattle

Muertos_1
On Dia de los Muertos, people present gifts at the grave sites of their deceased loved ones. (Photo via Flickr by Rob Sheridan)

No, Día de los Muertos is not the same as Halloween.

So what is it, exactly?

Day of the Dead is a traditional Mexican holiday originating from the indigenous communities in Mesoamerica: Aztecs, Mayas, Purepechas, Nahuas, and Totonacas. (Yes, skull candies are based on the use of actual human trophy skulls in rituals).

Following the Spaniards’ arrival, the indigenous rituals were folded in to the Catholic religious calendar. The celebration has since followed Mexicans to the United States and other Latin American countries.

Traditionally, Día de los Muertos is celebrated after All Saints Day, by decorating, playing and making offerings to the deceased at the cemetery. It is believed that souls of children will come to earth on November 1, and those of adults on November 2.

But instead of being a mournful event, Día de los Muertos is spent playing and celebrating. You might see children running around the graves and eating some of the food left as offerings. The celebration can last all day, with many spending the night in the graveyard, as they wait for their loved ones’ spirits to come eat and celebrate!

Here are some of the main components of traditional Día de los Muertos celebrations:

Altars

For those not able to visit their departed loved ones in a cemetery, ofrendas, or altars, are erected and decorated in their memory. Photos of the deceased, as well as candles, figures of saints and offerings are placed at the altars.

An altar created by the Enrique family honoring a family member. The photographs show important moments he spent with his family. The skulls and the leaves of the tree make people remember how his personality is still alive. (Photo by Liliana Caracoza)
An altar created by the Enrique family honoring a family member. The photographs show important moments he spent with his family. The skulls and the leaves of the tree make people remember how his personality is still alive. (Photo by Liliana Caracoza)

Offerings

(Photo via Flickr by Eddie Codel)
Ofrendas also translates as offerings. Food or drink is often left at the Altars, intended to nourish loved ones’ souls on the long journey to earth. It is traditional to leave that which was favored by the deceased. Pour one out for the homies, indeed! (Photo via Flickr by Eddie Codel)

Elegant Skulls

Skull candies and “La Catrina” are the two most well-known symbols of the celebration. The butterflies and the bright colors placed on the skull make it more attractive and symbolic. It shows that the skull represents not just death but it also reflects a living and happy tone. (Photo by Liliana Caracoza)
Decorations often feature “La Calavera Catrina” or “The Elegant Skull.” Created by indigenous artist Jose Guadalupe Posadas, is meant to show that we’ll all one day die. Flourishes emphasize the fun of life, and show life as a gift. (Photo by Liliana Caracoza)

Face-painting

Holiday participants paint their faces as skulls. (Photo via Flickr by Rob Sheridan)
Holiday participants paint their faces as skulls. (Photo via Flickr by Rob Sheridan)

Aztec danza


As this is a traditional celebration, it is a great time to experience indigenous dance. Here’s a great example of an Aztec danza from Seattle’s Día de Muertos Celebration.

Tapete

Artist Victor Gonzalez helped assemble a sand carpet designed by Oaxacan artist Fulgencio Lazo, following the Dia de los Muertos tradition of his region of Mexico. (Photo by Liliana Caracoza)
Tapete is traditional sand painting, and there will be some great examples at the Tacoma and Seattle Art Museums. Artist Victor Gonzalez helped assemble a sand carpet designed by Oaxacan artist Fulgencio Lazo, following the Dia de los Muertos tradition of his region of Mexico. (Photo by Liliana Caracoza)

A time to reflect

Día de los Muertos has also been a time to reflect on tragedy, such as the many Mexican women who are victims of domestic violence, or the 43 students disappeared in Guerrero.

This year, El Centro de la Raza is reaching out and honoring the Black Lives Matter movement, in remembrance of those lost this year due to the systemic racism in the United States. This hints at the deeper meaning behind Día de los Muertos.

Opportunities to celebrate Día de los Muertos in Seattle this year:

Celebremos el Día de los Muertos – Seattle Public Library
October 24, 28, 29 & Nov 7, various times and branches

Día de los Muertos Burien Celebration
October 30 @ 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm 

Día de los Muertos at Seattle Art Museum
October 30 @ 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm

Día de Muertos en Seattle 2015
October 31 @ 11:00 am – 7:00 pm, November 1st @ 11:00 am – 6:00 pm

Día de los Muertos Festival at Phinney Neighborhood Center
November 1 @ 4:00 pm – 7:00 pm

Tacoma Art Museum has celebrated Día de los Muertos for 11 years!
November 1 @ 10:00 am – 4:00 pm

Día de los Muertos at El Centro de la Raza
November 2 @ 5:30 pm – 8:30 pm

A Celebration of Souls: Day of the Dead in Southern Mexico – Burke Museum
September 30 – December 31

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.