Día de los Muertos: Tradition and Culture Meets Community

Photo by Michael Brunk / nwlens.com

The Día de los Muertos celebration in Burien is an example of a community and City partnership at its best.

Nancy Salguero McKay, curator for the Highline Historical Society, had been advocating for Día de los Muertos events for many years. In 2008, McKay worked with volunteers from local organizations, to create the first altars with ofrendas (offerings) in the old Burien Community Center. She went on to help coordinate altars at more celebrations, including the Burien Interim Art Space (BIAS) event Night of 1,000 Pumpkins and Parks Night of the Pumpkin.

In 2015, City staff brought together a committee of Latino community members and organizations so that they could voice their vision for the future of the event. The committee recommended that the City create an authentic Día de los Muertos event in Burien. The first standalone event included traditional performers and food, arts and crafts for the kids, community altars, lotería (bingo), storytelling, and more. More than 900 people attended.

Each year, the event draws more people. McKay says, “It’s a beautiful celebration of the diversity and sense of community that exists in Burien.”

At this year’s celebration, community members were invited to build their own altars at the Burien Community Center. The Burien celebration generally follows traditions from Mexico, but it also includes ofrendas that are considered “freestyle” instead of traditional ofrendas. Volunteers offered storytelling and other children’s activities that taught the meaning and history of the celebration. People also enjoyed traditional face painting, music, and dance.

Gabbi Gonzales, City of Burien Recreation Coordinator, who helped organize the event says, “We want this event to be something that the Burien community feels that they own. It’s important that we continue to celebrate all the diverse traditions of the residents of the city. Everyone is welcome to attend.”

El Día de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead), is a day to celebrate, remember and prepare special foods in honor of those who have departed. Although celebrated throughout Latin America, Día de los Muertos is most strongly associated with Mexico, where the tradition originated. In Latin America, the streets near the cemeteries are filled with decorations of papel picado (colorful banners), flowers, candy calaveras (skeletons and skulls), and parades.

It is believed that the spirit of the dead visit families on October 31 and leave on November 2.

Families celebrate by making altars and place ofrendas (offerings) of food such as pan de muertos baked in shapes of skulls and figures, candles, incense, yellow marigolds known as cempazuchitl (also spelled zempasuchil) and a photo of the departed soul is placed on the altar.

The day is celebrated differently in different counties. For example, in Guatemala, kite festivals are a part of the tradition. In Honduras and El Salvador, local festivals that date back to pre-Hispanic times are part of the celebration.

Wherever it is celebrated, it is an opportunity for families to face the death of loved ones with both mourning and joy.

What is Día de los Muertos?

El Día de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead), is a day to celebrate, remember and prepare special foods in honor of those who have departed. Although celebrated throughout Latin America, Día de los Muertos is most strongly associated with Mexico, where the tradition originated. In Latin America, the streets near the cemeteries are filled with decorations of papel picado (colorful banners), flowers, candy calaveras (skeletons and skulls), and parades.

It is believed that the spirit of the dead visit their families on October 31 and leave on November 2.

Families celebrate by making altars and place ofrendas (offerings) of food such as pan de muertos baked in shapes of skulls and figures, candles, incense, yellow marigolds known as cempazuchitl (also spelled zempasuchil) and most importantly a photo of the departed soul is placed on the altar.

The day is celebrated differently in different counties. For example, in Guatemala, kite festivals are a part of the tradition. In Honduras and El Salvador, local festivals that date back to pre-Hispanic times are part of the celebration.

Wherever it is celebrated, it is an opportunity for families to face the death of loved ones with both mourning and joy.

Emily Inlow-Hood
Communications Officer at | More posts
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