| 03.18.2018

Alters and Calaveras — Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos gives people a special opportunity to honor relatives and friends who died


Costumes and late night scary movie marathons are not the only things that October brings. Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is an important celebration in Hispanic culture which the University of Idaho celebrates every year. 

 abi stomberg | rawr An example of the Dia de los Muertos alter stands tall in Administration building room 318. Students are invited to create their own for the competition at the end of the month.

abi stomberg | rawr
An example of the Dia de los Muertos alter stands tall in Administration building room 318. Students are invited to create their own for the competition at the end of the month.

Dia de los Muertos is a Mexican holiday in which those who have passed away are remembered and celebrated for the people they were, the things they enjoyed and the impressions they left on their friends and family. It is a celebration of personality and legacy.

The holiday has been celebrated in Mexico for centuries and has traditions and beliefs which stem from Aztec society, said Leathia Botello, the coordinator for the Office of Multicultural Affairs.

After the Spanish Empire colonized Mexico, the traditional holiday date was switched from August to Nov. 1 and 2 to coincide with the Catholic celebrations of All Souls’ Day and All Saints’ Day. Dia de los Muertos, a holiday derived from both Aztec and Spanish culture and beliefs, lasts for two days to honor loved ones who have passed away. The first day honors the life of children who had passed away and the second day honors the lives of adults.

“We’re trying to make sure that the culture is shared,” Botello said. “It’s not a scary thing, it’s not a Halloween thing, it’s just a way to remember your loved ones.”

The celebration began on campus 14 years ago after UI student, Shantel Scott, passed away during the summer. She was a Native American and was a member of Gamma Alpha Omega, one of the university’s Latina based sororities.

During that year, Botello was in Missoula, Mont., and had witnessed their Dia de los Muertos celebration where they did a student parade with extravagant floats along with alters and many other forms of celebration.

Returning to Moscow inspired, Botello said she suggested that the Office of Multicultural Affairs honor Scott in that manner. The first year they created an altar for Scott in the office where Botello works. They decided to also make an altar for other loved ones as well who had passed away.

Small skulls with names written across them were used to commemorate the family and friends that students and staff wished to recognize.

The next year, they did a parade. Another year, they got a mariachi band to play.

“It has transformed many different ways over the years,” Botello said. “The celebration is intended for students to express their affectionate feelings for the ones they love and respect. We are trying to make sure to educate the campus about the holiday and the cultural traditions as well.”

The SUB Ballroom will be filled with decorated altars Oct. 30. Students can expect beautiful displays on exhibition, she said.

Presently, there is an altar featuring Frida Kahlo, which was set up last year by one of the Spanish classes in the Administration building in room 318.

There will be a competition for the best altar and a poetry reading and competition.

Calaveras (poems) must be submitted in Spanish, with a minimum length of four verses,  they must rhyme and incorporate a loved one with their name.

Satirical and political themes are welcome as well, said Lori Celaya, a UI Spanish professor. Celaya will be one of the judges for the calaveras competition. Celaya said the judges will evaluate the calaveras based on many things including their uniqueness and elements of satire. Winners will be announced at the end as well.

The celebration will have face painting, cultural learning activities, dance performances and dinner from 4:30-6 p.m. Dinner will be tostadas, beans, rice, drinks and dessert served for $5 at Saint Augustine’s dining hall across the street from the SUB.

After judges evaluate the altars, people may go to dinner and then come back from 5-6 p.m. for the viewing of the altars. Then, they may also make sugar skulls and get their faces painted. There will be information tables to learn more about the holiday as well and informational alters which describe the purpose of the traditional alter pieces and the symbolism.

Two dance groups on campus will be performing as one of the main events.

Sabor de la Raza, a Mexican Folkloric dance group and Ritmo, a Latin dance group will be performing dances such as Bachata, Salsa, Merengue and others.

Traditional folklore, a story called la Llorona, will also be read. This story, is of a tale of a women who kills her children which references the beginning of colonial influence in Mexico.

“It’s a little bit scary, sad and culturally relevant,” said Samantha Hansen, director of diversity for the Multicultural Greek Counsel.

The Dia de los Muertos celebration will take place in the SUB Ballroom Oct. 30.

Bryce Delay can be reached at arg-arts@uidaho.edu

Related Posts
No comments

There are currently no comments to show.