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Day of the Dead celebrated as part of UWRF’s Year of Mexico

November 5, 2015

The Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, festival held from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the University Center on Monday was like a flashback from an 8th grade Spanish lesson-except better. For those of you who haven’t had that particular Spanish class, the scene was set with a huge colored poster reading : Remembering Our Loved Ones, The Day of the Dead, stretched across the conference room next to the cafeteria.

Long tables ran around the edge of the room, heaped with offerings like flowers, hot chocolate, loving signs, cake, and photos. Those were part of the ofrendas, altars build to remember and honor the dead; that is the purpose of Día de los Muertos.

As part of the Year of Mexico this year, students were invited to participate in the tradition. For this purpose, in addition to iconic sugar skulls and paper flags, the room was full of circular tables covered in marigolds and colored markers. Students could not only admire the objects in honor of the deceased, but also make their own. Using markers, students were able to write messages on pre-printed cards which bore the word “tribute,” inviting participants to write a loving tribute to relatives or friends passed. The cards were sprinkled in profusion over the tables, but a quick glance is all one takes; some of the writings are very personal.

“I have written a tribute to my grandfather, who passed away a couple years ago, and I just explained a few of the memories that stuck out to me, and just kinda said that, you know, I miss him,” said student Alanna Bram. She attended the festival, and her tribute to her grandfather is next to many others, along with puffy-headed marigolds.

After writing the tributes, students could take marigolds, kept fresh in buckets near the fireplace, and lay them next to their cards. Historically, marigolds are important parts of the Día de los Muertos celebration because the bright flowers are believed to attract the spirits of the dead to their altars. The circular tables, therefore, were peppered with yellow and orange marigolds as well as many-colored tributes.

“I did a tribute to my step-grandmother, that also passed away a couple years ago, and I just kinda wrote down my favorite memories of her,” says student Kellie Gerdts. She is also participating in the Día de los Muertos celebration. “And I also wrote a little tribute to my dog,” she added.

“Oh yeah, I did also,” Bram chimed in. They both have images of dogs scrawled onto their pets’ cards.

Unlike the spooky feeling of Halloween, El Día de los Muertos is a happy, celebratory holiday, meant to remember the dead with love and cheer. This was reflected by the room’s festive decoration; white skulls painted in bright colors adorned the tables, and short paper flags spanned one particularly large ofrenda. On closer inspection, one sees not just photos and decorations, but also mementoes of the deceased: maracas and small figurines are included on the long tables. Tributes, like Bram’s and Gerdts’, are also included on the large ofrendas.

Gerdts says that she heard about El  Día de los Muertos from posters that she kept seeing around campus. “I found out because, in South Hall, there was a poster on the wall right next to my Business Law room, and I read it,” Gerdts remembered. “And, yeah, there were posters in the UC…I just kept like seeing it everywhere. I’m like, hmmm, I’m in Spanish class, and that’d be cool.”

Bran decided to go because she is taking a Spanish class. “I was interested…cause, like, we learned about it in high school,” she explained. She said, for her, the allure was “seeing what it was all about.”

Gerdts had a similar thought process. “The reason I came was like, ‘oh, I kinda know what this is’…we kinda learned about it in high school,” she said. Gerdts adds that she wanted to know more. “Seeing an actual, like, setup…cause I’ve only seen, like, pictures; in high school we didn’t like actually set anything up, we just looked at pictures online,” she remembered.

When asked if they would go again, both girls said yes; Gerdts added that she would definitely go if there was food. There was cake and chocolate on the ofrendas, but Gerdts and Bram were unclear if they should eat it. “It’s supposed to be for the offering,” Bram decided. There were also Abuelita’s Hot Chocolate on some of the ofrendas, a special kind of Mexican hot chocolate that comes in chunks of meltable chocolate. “We made that in high school,” Gerdts said. “So good.

They also both said that they would recommend that other people go to similar events. Gerdts said that she actually told her professor about it, in hopes that she could tell her classes about it.

“I’d definitely recommend it,” she continued. “It’s pretty neat to experience…different cultures, different festivities.”