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MEChA Celebrates El Dia de Los Muertos

Yini Chen | Photo Intern
Yini Chen | Photo Intern 

By Javier Burdette

When the average person hears the word “October,” their thoughts likely jump immediately to the last night of the month, a night filled with candy, costumes and all sorts of creepy entertainment.

There is, however, another holiday that shares the date October 31. The Mexican holiday El Día de Los Muertos is a celebration that most people know exists, but few outside of the Hispanic community truly understand.

On the night of Nov. 4, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan de UCI (MEChA de UCI) hosted a Día de Los Muertos celebration at the Student Center Terrace in the hopes of spreading knowledge about the holiday in an informative and easy-to-grasp way, while simultaneously honoring the roots of the tradition.

Beginning on Oct. 31 and ending Nov. 2, Day of the Dead  tells the story of how the gates of heaven open and the line between this world and the next is blurred.

Altars are built by families with the intent of honoring the visiting spirits of ancestors. Examples of such altars were set up at MEChA’s event. Among the many items traditionally placed on the altars as ofrendas (offerings) are the dead’s favorite foods, drinks, photos and various memorabilia associated with the deceased.

“The Day of the Dead is celebrated in honor of our loved ones. We do that by making offerings,” said Hilda Cristanos, a member of MEChA and organizer for the event. “It’s not about  mourning. It’s supposed to be a  joyful celebration.”

Two forms of decoration unique to the day of the dead are calaveras and cempasuchil. The calavera is an artistic representation of a human skull, often decorated in a distinctly traditional style. Some calaveras are made of sugar or chocolate and are meant to be eaten; others are ceramic and meant purely for display. Cempasuchil, or Mexican marigolds, are another symbol associated with the Day of the Dead, their significance being Aztec in origin. They are depicted in myth as having four-hundred petals (the Aztec equivalent of infinity), symbolizing the infinite number of stars in the sky which are believed to be the souls of those who have passed.

Aside from the altar tables was a kiosk selling a plethora of trinkets, including everything from skeleton figurines to handmade bracelets. Across from the main stage was a face-painting station, where attendees got a chance to have themselves painted as imitations of the calaveras. Pizza was served, and for dessert: pan de muerto (or “bread of the dead”), a moderately sweet pastry baked in the shape of bones.

Several groups performed throughout the night. Dancers from Ballet Folklorico de UCI donned face paint and colorful, ruffled dresses as they presented traditional dances from all over Mexico, with featured singers interspersed between.

The Aztec dance group’s performance acknowledged and showcased the event’s ancient roots. A conch shell was blown and incense burned as dancers in massive headdresses adorned with colorful plumage acknowledged the sky, earth and directions.

Though often shrugged off as a “Latino Halloween,” it is clear to see that El Día De Los Muertos proves itself to be a different entity entirely. It is a three-day period of honor, respect and reverence. It is often easy to overlook the importance of some of the lesser-known holidays, but El Día de Los Muertos is one that ought not be missed.