Borrego Sun - Since 1949

DAY OF THE DEAD – DIA DE LOS MUERTOS, A Celebration of Lives


Last updated 11/2/2018 at 11:57am

By Martha Deichler

Patricia, recently widowed with two grown daughters, sat solemnly by her first altar, “ofrenda,” to her beloved husband at a Day of the Dead Celebration in Borrego Springs 12 years ago.

In front of her was a rather simple yet colorful altar complete with her husband’s pack of unfinished Marlboro’s, a can of his favorite Tecate beer, photos of his rugged mastached face, the ubiquitous orange marigolds, his small plastic comb, frayed photos of his parents with him as a child on a far-away ranch in Mexico, a plate of carne asada, votive candles, a glass of water, paper banners and brightly painted sugar skulls ghoulishly mixed into the display.

Patricia glanced up as if to say, “Come over here and let me tell you about this wonderful husband and father”.

I moved that way and sat down next to her as she began to recount his colorful life with loving words and warm memories. As she spoke with tears in her eyes, her mood turned gradually from sad to somber to joyful as she animatedly shared stories and laughed and relished in recounting the memories of his life. I felt honored to be a part of this incredibly personal and cathartic moment in Patricia’s life.

It was a lesson well learned as I found myself building an altar for my own father the following Nov. 2 and proudly sharing his long and fruitful life with anyone wishing to listen. I understood Day of the Dead. It felt so good to remember, to honor and to keep alive the memory of a loved one.

For folks not familiar with Day of the Dead, it might appear to be a morbid, garish and even disrespectful event with its skulls, skeletons, mounds of food for the Dead spirits, blinking lights, candles, music, brightly colored tablecloths and flags and a host of other quite different cultural customs.

Just the opposite. For our Hispanic friends, especially from Mexico and the northern part of Central America, this age old custom every Nov. 2 is rooted in an intertwining of indigenous beliefs around ancestral commemoration and the arrival of the Spanish with Catholicism’s All Saints’ Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls’ Day (Nov. 2).

On Day of the Dead, it is believed that souls will make their way from the cemeteries to their families’ homes where altars have been created to remember and rejoice in the memory of loved ones.

Every item on an altar is part of a rich tradition going back thousands of years and each altar has elements representing water, wind, earth and fire. Altars are loaded with offerings to encourage and guide the spirits of the deceased back home for a celebratory visit.

Come learn about the Day of the Dead tradition in our own town where we have many Mexican-American families who bring their rich culture and customs to Borrego and add much to the fabric that is Borrego Springs.

Heck, you don’t have to be of Mexican heritage to create an altar! I’ll be creating one for my mother who passed away this past April. Come and create one of your own and we’ll share stories, laugh, cry and remember.

Day of the Dead Altars will be displayed Friday Nov. 2 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., in the former Ocotillo Shop next to the Fudge Factory. Mexican folk dancers will perform from the Elementary School and Miss Borrego, Dennise Cecena will sing. Special food items from Pablitos will be on sale and water will be available.

For more information, please call Borrego Springs Unified School District Community Liasion Martha Deichler at 619-948-5900.

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