The Cortez Cultural Center hosted a Day of the Dead celebration Friday to honor the traditional Mexican festival.
“Dia de los Muertos is an opportunity to remember and celebrate the lives of departed loved ones,” said Cultural Center events coordinator Sandy Valencia.
A Mexican meal of tortilla soup, pan de muerto and hot chocolate was served to about 50 people.
“We want to do something fun to get this event going, and we knew that hosting a meal of traditional Mexican food is a way to bring people together,” said Becky Levy, executive director for the Cultural Center.
Day of the Dead originated several thousand years ago with the Aztec, Toltec and other Nahua people, Valencia said. Death is not seen as so negative, rather it is viewed as a natural phase in life’s long continuum.
The tradition dates to pre-Hispanic cultures that believed mourning the dead was disrespectful. The dead were still members of the community, kept alive in memory and spirit. During Day of the Dead, they temporarily return to Earth.
“The tradition is a celebration of life, not death,” Valencia said.
Not to be confused with Halloween, Day of the Dead is a distinct Mexico festival that takes place from Nov. 1-2.
During the lively festival, participants set up elaborate alters of loved ones who have passed on, leaving gifts, food, and their favorite beverages. Graves are whitewashed, picnics are held in graveyards, and costumes are worn in musical parades depicting loved ones who have died.
Elaborate and colorful folk skull art is also part of the festival. Skulls are not seen as a morbid symbol, but rather as a whimsical reminder of the cyclical nature of life. Monarch butterflies also play a symbolic role because they are believed to hold the spirits of the departed.
“We really enjoyed it,” said Tom Hayden, while eating tortilla soup at the event. “I like that the it shows off a different culture. After all, that’s what the Cultural Center is all about.”