Day of the Dead – A Time of Celebration
Last updated 1/23/2020 at 11:14am
Altars were colorfully decorated with paper flowers, tissue paper squares (papel delicado representing the fragility of life) blew delicately in the light breeze, candles glowed warmly, freshly cooked tamales filled the air with a delicious aroma and pungent smelling marigolds created a camino or pathway leading up to the altars. On the altar were photos of a handsome caballero-looking gentleman in all his phases of life from an infant to a young man on a horse to a grandfather with a big moustache and a proud smile.
This is Day of the Dead. It is a Latin American tradition (and in some European countries) of honoring the dead and keeping their memory alive through the creation of altars that not only reflect their life but also adhere to certain traditions of what should be included on the altar. On Nov. 2, these souls will travel to the altar to partake of their favorite foods, communicate with living relatives and for at least one evening each year, allow their families to relive moments and memories with deceased loved ones.
Borrego Springs High School 10th graders studied all of this as part of their Latin America History class with teacher, Harmony Sawyer Williams. Their assignment was to create an altar to a deceased loved one complete with the traditional elements of water, salt, tissue flowers, papel delicado, food and marigolds. They were then to be present on Day of the Dead Nov. 2, to present their altars to the public who came to visit, learn and honor the deceased loved ones of others.
Such a healthy and cathartic event it was. Entire families came to linger over an altar to a beloved grandfather who passed away last September. The Arteaga family wheeled in their elegant, widowed grandmother and as a family, huddled together in complete joy as they shared his colorful and long life with one another. Rather than tears, they shared joys and smiles. The colorful sugar skulls on his altar mocked death and allowed the children to accept death as a natural Christian passing and to appreciate their grandfather's life and his accomplishments.
Such is Day of the Dead or Dia de los Muertos. Many of our local families from Mexico enjoy this tradition every year and many locals come to learn about it and even create their own altars to deceased loved ones.
Borrego Springs is a colorful community and this is just one example of the rich fabric that brings us together and makes us unique. Join us next November as our students and their families hold classes to teach locals about the elements of creating altars for Day of the Dead. You will create an altar of your own for a deceased family member or friend and become a part of our local culture.