Celebrate Death on the Day of the Dead

Art students from Hollister’s San Benito High School are
throwing a celebration complete with food, flowers … and
skeletons?
Art students from Hollister’s San Benito High School are throwing a celebration complete with food, flowers … and skeletons?

Yes, skeletons. It’s all part of the Mexican tradition of el Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, and the students are hosting the event at the Hollister YMCA at 339 Fifth St.

“What’s nice about it is that it’s a celebration and a happy time,” said Louise Roy, a ceramic art teacher at San Benito High. “It makes death not a scary thing.”

Day of the Dead – which falls on Nov. 2 – and Dia de los Angelitos – or Day of the Little Angels, which falls on Nov. 1 – are days to remember the dead and to visit loved ones’ graves, said Raul Vega, president of the Gilroy Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. The ritual was originally held in July and August, but more than a hundred years ago Spanish missionaries moved it to coincide with All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, both Catholic holy days.

“Celebrants believe that the souls of the dead return and are all around them on these days,” he said.

To observe the two holidays, people decorate loved ones’ graves with marigold flowers, as well as candles and toys for children or bottles of tequila for adults, Vega said. Families and friends sit on picnic blankets next to the grave sites and eat the favorite foods of their loved ones.

“It’s supposed to be a celebration,” Roy said. “If you cry it makes the road slippery, and it’s hard for the souls to come back. So it’s important that it’s a joyous occasion.”

Family members also create small alters for their deceased loved ones and put up their pictures, adorned with flowers and food. Skulls and skeletons, made from sugar and decorated with bright colors, are placed on the alters.

The ceramics classes at San Benito High made similar decorations to put on display at the YMCA. Other art classes at San Benito High School made other decorations, such as paintings and cartoons, as part of the celebration. The public is invited to make decorations or bring pictures of deceased loved ones to adorn the alter at the YMCA.

“My intention was to make this a community event, and so everyone is welcome,” Roy said. “People who saw it last year said it was just like (it is) in Mexico, and people so appreciate seeing their loved ones’ pictures on the alter.”

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