The Day of the Dead, Dia de los Muertos, is a celebration for the dead. It’s a day of remembrance, so families can pray for loved ones that are no longer around. Some people follow the tradition to keep the dead alive and others use this day to help them cope with the pain of losing someone.
Traditionally, this is a Mexican holiday, but it is celebrated and observed all over the world, even in Pueblo, Colorado. During the three day duration, starting on October 31, there are three parts to the celebration. Day one: the preparation, day two: all saints day, also known as day of the innocents, and day three: all souls’ day, also known as Day of the Dead.
In Southern Colorado, the tradition is alive and well. There’s annual celebrations that take place at college campuses all across the region. A majority of the celebrations take place on November 1 and they treat that as the Day of the Dead, or All Souls’ Day.
One celebration, close to home, has been taking place, annually, since 2003. On the Colorado State University- Pueblo campus, altars are put together and offerings are displayed. In an effort to help share the Mexican culture, this event is open for all clubs, organizations and community members.
“We started celebrating this event in November of 2003,” Dr. Dora Luz Cobian-Klein wrote, via email. “ A student named Lisa stated she wanted to have this event on campus.” The rest is history.
After her student sparked interest, her and Joyce Archuleta, an advisor for Catholic Ministries, began the planning for the first Day of the Dead celebration. In the beginning, they had to fundraise all the funds for the event, but with help from organizations, on and off of campus, the event has money tied to it every year.
Some of the sponsors and organizations that are involved are Catholic Campus Ministries, Chicano Studies, M.E.Ch.A., the Diversity Resource Center, the English and Foreign Language department and the Office of Student Activities.
“It [CSU-Pueblo’s Dia de los Muertos Celebration]is a vehicle for the community and our students to learn about the culture and what Dia De Los Muertos means to the Chicano/Mexican culture and other Latino cultures,” Dr. Cobian-Klein replied. “We give them the opportunity to participate and build their altars to celebrate their loved ones that have passed. It is special because it bridges the gap between the community and campus.”
The world has different variations of this celebration, but it is all centered around Hallowmas season, which is the triduum, or religious observance that lasts three days long. Though Halloween might seem more playful, it’s actually based off of this same tradition.
First up, there’s the ofrenda, or offering. During the first day, families will prepare and put together all of the material they need for the altar. Family members and loved ones will put together an altar, as an offering for the person that they are praying for. They will generally collect items and pictures belonging to the person who has passed away. This traditional, ritual altar is usually quite large and contains about three tiers.
The top tier is designated for the placement of photos of the person who has passed away, and it’s also normal to place pictures of saints as well. This will all be placed in a retablo. The second tier usually contains food. It will generally have mole, candy, pan dulce, which is sweetbread and pan de muerto. Then, the final ingredient is alcohol, which could be a shot glass full of Tequila. The bottom tier will contain lit candles and a mirror so the spirit can see itself, that’s why they also put soap and a towel there, so the spirit can refresh themselves.
Then, there’s day two. This day will fall on November 1 and this day is designated for the children that have passed away. The United States version is a little different, because in most places they will celebrate the children and adults on November 1. But, in Mexico they also celebrate the saints on this day and will save to rest for the next day.
November 2 is All Souls’ Day. This day all souls, as implied in the name, will be celebrated, and this is the actual Day of the Dead. This is the day that all of the deceased spirits will be celebrated.
Both countries, Mexico and the United States, have had an influence on each other. Some of the Mexican-American residents of the United States will celebrate the Day of the Dead, and even follow all of the details of the tradition. Then, in Mexico, some of the residents have picked up on the tradition of giving out candy during Halloween. On day one of Day of the Dead, adults would give out coins to young children for good luck, but for the last few years, they have given out candy to the children.
“The main goal is to share the culture and to help bridge the gap between communities,” Dr. Cobian-Klein wrote. “We hope that individuals understand that Dia De Los Muertos is not about celebrating death but it is about celebrating life.”
[tw-button size=”medium” background=”” color=”” target=”_blank” link=”http://chass.colostate-pueblo.edu/CHICANOSTUDIES/Pages/DiaDeLosMuertos.aspx”]Details on the festivities at CSU-Pueblo[/tw-button]