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The Meaning of Día de los Muertos: ‘It’s a Celebration of Life’


By Katie Kerwin McCrimmon


Photo: TCF/The Weekly Issue/El Semanario Longmont’s Day of the Dead celebration includes personalized altars, Longmont, Colorado.

Despite its name, Day of the Dead or Día de los Muertos isn’t about loss or sadness.


“It’s a celebration of life,” said Victoria González, marketing and digital manager for Denver’s Latino and Cultural Arts Center.


Every fall, leaders at the Latino and Cultural Arts Center tap ancient and contemporary traditions to celebrate Day of the Dead. This year, they have teamed up with partners across the Denver area to offer art workships and address individual and collective grief. The partners include the Foothills Art Center, Sun Valley Youth Center, Raices Brewery, and the Mexican Cultural Center.


Gonzalez also is making a documentary about the history of Day of the Dead celebrations in Colorado.


The art center’s seasonal celebration is called Ofrendas. Ofrendas are offerings placed on lovingly-designed altars, which include photos of loved ones, candles, flags and ancestors’ favorite foods.


Day of the Dead or Día de los Muertos celebrations have roots both in indigenous Aztec and Mayan cultures and Catholicism. Unique traditions have emerged in Mexico, Guatemala and among Mexican-Americans in U.S. cities like Los Angeles and Denver.


“The relationships that Mexicans, Chicanos or Latinos have with the dead are very different,” González said. “We don’t see death as an endpoint. It’s a journey. We invite our ancestors back into our homes to enjoy offerings that we set out on altars.”


Some people conflate Day of the Dead with Halloween or think it’s a scary holiday. Those perceptions are incomplete at best.


Day of the Dead is a lively, joyous occasion, marked by intricate altars in homes, dancing, parades in cities and celebrations at some graveyards. In México, for instance, people celebrate Day of the Dead by decorating their loved ones’ graves with bright orange marigolds, which are believed to light the way for ancestors to return.


Photo: Cyrus McCrimmon/permiso UCHealth Colorado A young woman wears an elaborate costume to celebrate Día de los Muertos in Denver, Colorado.

In Colorado, you can visit traditional bakeries, like Rosales Mexican Bakery in Denver, where you can taste pan de muerto, or bread of the dead, a sweet and savory concoction. Or, you can buy colorful, decorated sugar skulls.


“We’re honoring and remembering our ancestors,” González said. “People have feasts and enjoy meals together and tell stories and remember their loved ones. That’s how we celebrate our dearly departed and keep their memory close.”


Our loved ones remain very much alive through our memories of them and the way we celebrate their lives.


And, people can treasure those memories any time of the year. Gonzalez keeps an altar set up in her home all year long to remind herself to honor those who came before her.


González is a fifth-generation Mexican American who grew up in Houston,TX, but Day of the Dead celebrations have been lost in some Hispanic communities and families while others never adopted the traditions.


“It wasn’t until we moved to Denver that I was exposed to Day of the Dead,” González said. “I’ve learned to reconnect with that part of my heritage.”


Photo: TCF/The Weekly Issue/El Semanario Day of the Dead is a lively, joyous occasion, marked by intricate altars.

The holiday really could be called Days of the Dead or Días de Los Muertos because it’s actually celebrated over two days: Nov. 1 and 2, and traditionally spans over months.


“Nov. 1 is dedicated to the children who have been lost,” Gonzalez said. “Then the second day is a celebration for adults and everyone else.”


Some people without Hispanic roots are newly enthusiastic about celebrating Day of the Dead since the Disney animated film, “Coco,” popularized the holiday.


González said the film isn’t entirely accurate. But, all people from various racial and ethnic backgrounds are welcome at Day of the Dead celebrations.


“The best way to learn about Day of the Dead is to go into the community and experience it first-hand. All people are welcome,” González said. “Just be in the community and be open to learning about something outside of your comfort zone. Embrace it with love and find new ways to come together and build a healthier city and nation.”



Día de los Muertos Events in Colorado:


Latino and Cultural Arts Center


Nichos Workshop, Oct 24, Noon to 3 p.m., Foothills Art Center, 809 15th Street, Golden, Colorado, ages 8+, free event, masks required, food & drink provided register. Victor Escobedo’s body of work pays tribute to his experience being born in America to Mexican parents, time spent in the Yucatan jungle listening to his grandmother speak Maya, seeing ancient ruins, exploring Maya sites before tourism, and growing up in Los Angeles in the 80s and 90s. He is currently a Resident Artist at the RedLine Contemporary Art.


LCAC also offer a unique shopping experience, Hijos del Sol, 2715 West 8th Avenue in Denver, Colorado, that supports local and international artisans, while offering individuals and families the opportunity to honor their departed loved ones in a personalized way.



5K/10K Run/Walk


City Park, Denver, Oct. 24. This event will benefit Denver’s Latino Leadership Institute. The Latino Leadership Institute at the University of Denver honors the heritage of leadership, advances Latino professionals to positions of influence, and prepares organizations to innovate for the workplace of tomorrow.



Longmont Museum


Now Through November 7. The free Día de los Muertos exhibition returns to the Longmont Museum’s Swan Atrium, featuring ofrendas (altars) built by community members and the work of Longmont artist, Mario Olvera. Olvera’s artistic lens has become an inseparable part of both his professional and personal life, beautifully woven into his endeavors as a visual artist, educator, youth mentor, Aztec dancer, and father. Using art as a vessel to foster self-acceptance and respect among marginalized populations, Mario has become an influential teacher in Longmont and the surrounding region.


Attracting more than 6,000 people annually, Longmont’s Day of the Dead exhibition and celebration is the longest-standing celebration in Colorado.


Longmont’s Downtown celebration of the Day of the Dead includes altar and Gigantes displays from participating businesses. Their altars consist of honoring their deceased loved ones, pets, heroes etc. Everyone is encouraged to do a self-guided tour of these beautiful altars through Nov. 5 from the businesses listed here.


Read here for information about all things Día de Muertos in Longmont, CO, and thematic content highlighting the origins and traditions that make Day of the Dead a meaningful and heartwarming holiday. Follow along to cook with family, create traditional crafts, build your own altar, and more. Longmont Museum is located at 400 Quail Rd, Longmont, Colorado.



Denver Botanic Gardens


El Mercado-Shop the Denver Botanic Gardens Mercado, showcasing artist vendors from Colorado selling their Día de los Muertos original art pieces, prints, folk art, jewelry, t-shirt designs and more.


Altars of Remembrance-Altars are at the heart of Día de los Muertos. Individuals and organizations are invited to create nichos to be displayed during the Día de los Muertos celebration on November 6. For consideration, please review the Nicho Eligibility Overview and complete an application.


Día de los Muertos Individual Nicho Application and Día de los Muertos Group Nicho Application.


Alebrijes Iluminados, Oct. 27 –Nov. 5, included with Gardens admission. Denver Botanic Gardens’ observance of Día de los Muertos will be celebrated this year with Alebrijes Ilumniandos – colorful illuminated sculptures made by Mexican artists Rubén Mica and Óscar Becerra.


Artist Talk: Oscar Becerra and Ruben Mica, October 30, 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. Join artists Oscar Becerra and Ruben Mica in-person as they discuss the creation of artworks featured in Alebrije: Xólotl and Noches Iluminadas.


Noches Iluminadas, November 1-5, On evenings beginning Nov. 1, visitors to the Gardens during this festive week will have the opportunity to experience Alebrijes Iluminados. These colorful illuminated sculptures made by Mexican artists Rubén Mica and Óscar Becerra will be showcased as a complement to our Día de los Muertos Family Celebration. Get tickets.


Jefferson County Library


October 30 from 11 a.m. to noon. Learn about the significance of Sugar Skulls / Calaveras de Azúcar as you make your very own to take home. Bilingual presentation by an expert from the Museo de las Americas. Pick up your materials at any Jefferson County Public Library branch (while supplies last).



Museo de Las Americas


The Museo will host an array of Día de los Muertos activities, performance and vendors. The Nov. 5th event is free and open to the public from 5 to 9 p.m. Where? Denver’s Art District on Santa Fe. The museum is located at 861 Santa Fe Drive in Denver, and businesses, residents and art galleries in the district join in the Day of the Dead festivities.


Katie Kerwin McCrimmon is a Writer and Communications Specialist with UCHealth. Published with permission by UC Health Colorado. Cyrus, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer.


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