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Day of the Dead

In life we are dreaming, whereas in death we become fully awake. That was the Aztec view of life and death: a unity, not a dichotomy. For over 3,000 years, the Aztec expressed this belief through a month-long indigenous celebration that honored the dead, who were believed to return during this time.

When the Spanish came to colonize the Americas, one of their goals was to convert the indigenous peoples to Christianity. In a pragmatic approach, the Spanish sought to use parallel holidays as a cultural bridge for conversion. The Aztecs were the most influential ancient civilization that formed the cultural background of what is now Mexico.  By a blending of All Saints Day with the celebration above, the Spanish created the Mexican holiday known as ‘The Day of The Dead’ (Dia de Los Muertos).

The Day of the Dead is traditionally celebrated in the first days of November with a picnic at the cemetery. This is a sacred, mystical time to remember loved ones, to eat and drink, speak and laugh, pray and reflect. There are also rich symbols of life. The calaveras (Spanish for skull) – part whimsy, part supernatural representation – is the honored guest. A small ‘pan de muertos’ (literally “bread of the dead” – sweetened soft bread shaped like a bun, often decorated with bone-like pieces) and the sugar calaveras are important parts of this tradition. The calaveras is at once an icon and an edible, a symbolic ingesting of life and death, not a food (sugar is thought to have no true nutritive value), but a conscious act.

Another important part of the holiday is the art: calacas (skeletons) set in ofrendas (special altars).   Representations of skulls and skeletons are set onto the altars, which are trimmed with marigolds and placed with a variety of mementos that represent a connection or memory of their loved ones to the maker of the ofrendas. The celebration is family oriented and all members of the family are typically involved in the creation of the ofrendas.

Come celebrate this wonderful tradition at the Davis Cemetery on October 29th, 2011 from 1 P.M.-3 P.M.  Bring food (but no alcohol, please) and a colorful cloth to spread on the grass for your picnic. Enjoy music by Mariachi Tonantzin. Co-hosted by Slow Food Yolo, the Davis Cemetery invites you to a free fun afternoon, complete with complementary pan de muertos and Mexican hot chocolate. You may RSVP to www.slowfoodyolo.com or to cemetery@dcn.org to help us get an idea of how many to plan for. We look forward to seeing you on October 29th!

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