Last Sunday was Halloween, a day much loved by candy-hungry
children. The ancient Celts, who inhabited the area now occupied by
Ireland, United Kingdom and Northern France, believed that on this
night, known as
the spirits of the dead returned to earth. People welcomed them
with food and bonfires.
Last Sunday was Halloween, a day much loved by candy-hungry children. The ancient Celts, who inhabited the area now occupied by Ireland, United Kingdom and Northern France, believed that on this night, known as “Samhain,” the spirits of the dead returned to earth. People welcomed them with food and bonfires.
In the eighth century, the church attempted to foil this superstition by moving the Christian feasts of All Saints Day to Nov. 1 and All Souls Day to Nov. 2, thereby giving these dates Christian significance.
Today, Halloween itself has lost its religious meaning in the United States.
However, another holiday falls during this same time period, “Dia de los Muertos” or “Day of the Dead.” This has been an important part of Hispanic culture for more than 3,000 years.
When Spanish explorers arrived in Mexico during the 16th century, they were offended by the Aztecs’ practices in honoring the dead and wished to convert them to Catholicism.
The priests succeeded in moving the Aztecs’ ritual to coincide with All Saints and All Souls Days, but the natives continued to focus on remembering and honoring the spirits of the dead.
San Jose’s Calvary Catholic Cemetery (2650 Madden Ave.) welcomed the public to its first annual Day of the Dead celebration held Oct. 30.
The event was based on a similar event held for more than a decade at Hollywood Forever, Los Angeles’ oldest memorial park. Unlike the event in Southern California, the local event was open to the public and free of charge.
Despite rain falling earlier in the morning and threatening clouds in the afternoon, hundreds of visitors turned out to join in the celebration affirming that “Death is not the end of life. … Only in death will we be capable of resting in peace and truly living.”
There were entertainment, exhibits and activities for the whole family.
– Aztec dancers from the Mexican American Community Service Organization and the Lincoln High School Folklorico Dancers received an enthusiastic reception from the audience.
– Food booths served authentic enchiladas, rice, frijoles and tacos.
– Sponsor booths provided information about “El Observado,” a Spanish-language newspaper; Pathways, a home healthcare and hospice provider; Lights for Dark Places, publisher of bereavement books; and Lima Family Erickson Memorial Chapel, a funeral home.
– Guided tours of the cemetery were available. It is the oldest in San Jose and the final resting place of many valley pioneers.
– Vendor booths sold paintings, porcelain skulls, jewelry, temporary tattoos, clothing and ecological burial services.
– In a large tent, MACSA provided opportunities for children to decorate sugar skulls with icing, get their faces painted and create skull-shaped paper fans.
– Two bounce houses were available for children to enjoy.
A traditionally important part of Dia de los Muertos celebrations is the creation of memorial altars. A table is usually covered with a cloth and some crates are added to form empty shelves. Then it is covered with “ofrendas” (offerings). These can consist of many articles:
– Candles to light the way of the spirits
– Flowers, especially “cempasuchitl” (marigolds), representing life
– Salt and water to quench the thirst of the traveling souls
– Incense, symbolizing prayers ascending to God
– Special foods that were enjoyed by the deceased
– Photos of the deceased
– Crosses, crucifixes, prayer cards and holy medals.
In many Mexican towns, there are contests to choose the best “altares” (altars). The Mausoleum of St. Joseph contained several elaborate examples of these creative works of art, among them:
– “Hispanic Warriors,” provided by the Mexican G.I. Forum’s San Jose chapter, honored those who served in the armed forces.
– “Memorial Remembrance Table,” sponsored by Calvary, provided paper slips to write names of the departed to be remembered at Masses throughout November.
Gregory Sandoval of Pathways displayed an altar and offerings built into a suitcase to make it portable.
Calvary Cemetery hopes to make this “the premier Day of the Dead event in San Jose” in future years. For information about participating next year, call Nicole at (408) 258-2940.