www.montereycountyweekly.com october 26-november 1, 2023 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY 21 people to get to know the celebration,” says Hector Dionicio Mendoza, a sculpture and installation professor at CSU Monterey Bay. He teaches a class focused on Día de los Muertos, and is involved in setting up an altar at CSUMB that is open for all to contribute to. “A lot of people were introduced or reintroduced to the celebration.” This colorful Mexican tradition represents a fusion of cultures: Indigenous and Spanish, featuring elements of All Saints’ Day, a Catholic celebration that honors saints on Nov. 1. During colonization and Catholic evangelization in Mexico, the pre-Hispanic Day of the Dead mixed European traditions: the inclusion of Catholic crosses, sugar skulls and altar levels at different heights, including purgatory, came to be part of the visual customs. (An altar might have up to seven levels, symbolizing the steps that souls need to take to reach heaven.) Ortiz says many people use the Spanish words altar and ofrenda interchangeably because during the mission period, it was considered heresy to use ofrenda, which conveys an offering. “Indigenous people faced punishment, because [Catholic authorities] said it was an abomination.” The Day of Dead starts on the eve of Halloween, Oct. 31, and reaches its peak Nov. 1 and 2. Cemeteries across Mexico—and the Salinas Valley—look alive with people cleaning and adorning their relatives’ grave sites with marigolds, candles, food and more. Celebrating death is not unique to Mexican culture. Peoples around the world hold similar celebrations, including Obon, a Japanese Buddhist festival full of lights, family reunions and dancing; Thursday of the Dead or Thursday of the Secret is a Muslim and Arab Christian celebration in the Middle East in which people visit graves at dawn and make food offerings to children and the poor; Chuseok, which means autumn evening, is celebrated in North and South Korea where people honor their ancestors with food offerings and a memorial tablet that symbolizes their presence. For Día de los Muertos, a key component of honoring the dead is through creating an altar, which features a few key elements—photographs of those who we’ve lost, and symbols representing the four cardinal points—a crucifix is one option—and the elements of water, fire (food or candles), air (papel picado, colorful cut-out tissue paper, and wind instruments) and earth (marigolds or personal objects). Other altar elements include salt and copal, a tree sap pre-Hispanic cultures used as ceremonial incense (widely available in local stores) for purification. Ortiz says copal adds an important element of direction: “It’s to remember where we are and where we are going,” he says. And the symbols bring together a similar sense of awareness—the four winds, the four seasons, the four cardinal points, the four elements. “It’s all crosses,” Ortiz highlights. “The cross is very ancient, more ancient than Christianity.” Offerings normally include food and objects the departed enjoyed when they were alive, in preparation for their souls’ visit. “I always go and buy Olympia beer,” Ybarra says, noting her grandfather’s favorite drink. For Mendoza, who manages CSUMB’s community altar project, the celebration isn’t exclusive to Mexican people, but an opportunity for everyone to connect and celebrate: “We all have lost someone,” he says. Above: Julia Vera harvests marigolds just before Día de los Muertos 2022 at Nacho’s Rancho Farm in Las Lomas. The edible flowers add flavor (and color) to beverages and food, and are widely used in ofrendas. At top: An altar during Día de los Muertos in Mexico City features the essential elements, including fruit and other snacks, drinks, flowers and a cross, made from marigold petals in the foreground. Middle: Calaveras, or skulls, are a popular decorative component in many Día de los Muertos traditions. Here, colorful skulls available at a market in Mexico City. At bottom: Two people dressed as Catrin and Catrina at a cemetery on Día de los Muertos in Mexico City. Daniel Dreifuss Daniel Dreifuss Daniel Dreifuss Daniel Dreifuss