The annual Dia de los Muertos event at Thanksgiving Point was filled with music, dancing, art, and food to honor and remember loved ones and ancestors. The Mexican tradition, a holiday that combines Catholic and indigenous beliefs about life after death,is the one day a year the gates of heaven open, allowing deceased children and adults come back to their families on earth to enjoy eating, dancing, and singing together.
“It’s really a healthy way to remember our loved ones,” explained artist Marla Love, who comes to the Thanksgiving Point event each year to do face-painting with Art First Arte Primero, a Spanish-language after school art program in Salt Lake City. “In the Mexican culture, the skeleton is not scary. If you think about it, we’re all skeletons! It’s somewhat biblical, too, because if we didn’t have our skeletons, we’d be slithering snakes.”
Throughout the day on Saturday, Oct. 23, singers and dancers occupied the stage inside the Show Barn at Thanksgiving Point while guests roamed around the booths, had their faces painted, or enjoyed the incredible food available just outside the barn.
Representatives from FamilySearch were there to help guests find their ancestors on the genealogy website. “We’re all about finding our dead ancestors and honoring them,” said Mike Provard from FamilySearch. “It’s a perfect fit for us to be at the Day of the Dead celebration.” FamilySearch has all the Catholic Church records digitized and, in their collection, free for anyone to search.
The most recognized symbol of Dia de los Muertos is the “ofrenda,” a temporary altar to honor loved ones and provide them what they need on their journey. Several examples of ofrendas lined the east wall of the Show Barn. Family members filled tables with photos, favorite foods, objects, and even bottles of Coca-Cola.
A carefully constructed, miniature “alfombra” or carpet adorned the cement floor of the barn near the entrance where guests could admire it up close. The carpet is made with layers of vibrant sawdust and other materials like fruits. In Mexico, public streets are lined with alfrombra to greet a religious procession that walks over the vibrant sawdust creations for Dia de los Muertos.
Small statues of La Catrina were on many tables throughout the barn. She is an elegant or well-dressed skeleton lady with elaborate make-up made popular by the artist Guadalupe Posada in the early twentieth century. Posada created the image of a fancy lady skeleton to show that it doesn’t matter how rich or poor a person is, once underground, we take nothing with us.
“I want my children to be exposed to this beautiful celebration. It’s something I want to continue to do with my family to teach them about where they came from. Day of the Dead is not just for Mexicans!” said Nadia Cates. She grew up in San Diego, California and Mexico City, Mexico, and brings her family to the Thanksgiving Point celebration every year.