Living Up the Day of the Dead

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Living Up the Day of the Dead

By Jackie Minton

We followed Guadalajara, Mexico native Jimena Banos around Escondido’s Día de los Muertos festival. She shared her perspective on the celebration and described the culture of this day dedicated to the dead.


On Wednesday, November 1st, Escondido hosted its 22nd annual Día de los Muertos festival at the California Center for the Arts. While walking to the event, Sophomore Jimena Banos told us about her experience with the holiday. “Growing up, my parents tried to teach us a lot about the tradition. When I was eight we went to Michoacan and there it is a huge deal! I remember we went to the cemetery; it was late at night and all the families were gathering together at the tombs of their loved ones.” Even over a decade later she still recalls how strange it was to see families “partying” that night rather than mourning. Even though it is called “The Day of the Dead”, the day is truly a celebration of lives that have been lived.

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Once we arrived to the California Center for the Arts, Jimena pointed out traditions that are characteristic of this celebration. Deceased family members and friends are traditionally honored with “ofrendas”, or offerings, on altars that are meant to provide for their return to life on this day. At Escondido’s festival, square plots were provided to signify the altars traditionally used for this celebration. People brought pictures, trinkets, candles and food that symbolized the loved ones they remembered. The Escondido celebration also featured an altar for Selena, the Mexican American performing artist that died at age 23. The altar included pictures of her performing, clothing that was similar to her style, merchandise from her music, and some of her favorite foods. This reminded Jimena of the contests her school hosted to promote the tradition of Día de los Muertos. Each class was assigned someone to honor and judges chose the best altar presentation to win a grand prize. Jimena recalled, “We did some for famous people and saints too.” Her favorite altar that she made for these contests was in honor of Princess Diana.  It featured a large mural of a castle. She admitted that the school tended to go “over the top”.

Another aspect that is characteristic of Día de los Muertos is “Cempasuchil”, or Marigold flowers. They were spread throughout the arts center for the event. Jimena noted how their scent was familiar to her. “You don’t give [these flowers] away,” she said, noting how that would be offensive. They are “a representation of the festivity of the dead” and used nearly exclusively for this occasion. Also throughout the center, many women dressed in traditional apparel and skull-like face paint. Jimena explained, “One thing that is interesting in Mexico, and different from here, is that death is female because it is La Muerte. ‘La’ is a feminine pronoun. So for us La Catrina is like a representation of the dead.” Jimena shared that La Catrina is always a “fashionable”, young woman, which reveals the levity of her culture’s view of death. Escondido’s festival featured “La Catrina” with her husband “El Catrín”, as can be seen in the picture below.


As we took in the festivities, Jimena continued to remember the traditions she experienced back home. She shared the meaning behind an altar’s layout as well as the importance of a number of foods which are special to this celebration—most notably sugar skulls and pan de muerto. Escondido’s Día de los Muertos festival expresses the liveliness of this culture and enlightens a unique perspective on death. Jimena shared  that she ultimately considers this day to be one of “communion” between the whole community of the Church- both “the ones in heaven” and “the ones here” on Earth.


Photos courtesy of Halie Lasken

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