Local Día de los Muertos celebration invites all to participate

photo by: contributed photo

An altar, or ofreda, is set up as part of the 2017 Día de los Muertos celebration.

There is a long tradition behind the painted skulls, cheerful skeleton dolls and tissue-paper flowers of Día de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead.

Those who want to learn more about Día de los Muertos and participate in an authentic celebration of the holiday with traditional Mexican food, music and activities can soon do so. Student Union Activities has partnered with the University of Kansas Latin American Graduate Organization and other campus groups to host a celebration Thursday for Día de los Muertos, which is a holiday honoring deceased loved ones.

Thursday’s celebration is open to the public, and KU LAGO member Laura Jiménez, who is originally from Guanajuato, Mexico, said the group wants to show the community how Mexico celebrates the holiday.

“We know that this time of the year you have all the celebrations of Halloween, which are very different from our festivities in Mexico,” Jiménez said. “So we want to show people from here how these festivities happen in our country, so they can see the differences among our cultures and get to know a little bit about the Mexican culture.”

Día de los Muertos originated thousands of years ago in Mesoamerica and is a two-day celebration during which the barrier is believed to be lifted between the worlds of the living and the dead. It is believed that the souls of deceased children visit their families on Nov. 1, and the souls of deceased adults the following day. To honor their deceased loved ones, families create an altar, called an ofrenda, decorated with flowers, photos and candles, and include their loved one’s favorite food and other items to aid in their journey.

Like traditional celebrations, Jiménez said Thursday’s event will include a decorated altar, mariachi band and food traditionally served during the holiday. She said that includes tamales, atole and pan de muerto, or Day of the Dead bread. Atole is a sweetened, hot drink typically made with corn flour, milk, cinnamon and vanilla. Pan de muerto is a sweet bread roll, which is formed to look like it has bones lying across the top.

Regarding the educational component, Jiménez said there will be a series of posters with information about the holiday, and that a projector will display photos and short videos from Día de los Muertos celebrations in Mexico. The altar will include brightly colored tissue-paper flowers, candles, skulls and skeleton figurines, and offerings of food and drink. She said attendees are invited to bring photos of their deceased loved ones to display on the altar during the event.

“Usually, the idea of an altar, if you make it at home, is to remember people from your family or your friends that you loved in past years,” Jiménez said. “But since this is a public event with people from different places, the idea is that everyone can collaborate in the activity of the altar.”

Tables will also be set up with various art activities, such as creating figurines with sugar skulls, according to the Facebook event page. The KU Las Esmeraldas and the Beta Xi Chapter of Phi Iota Alpha Fraternity are also partnering to host this year’s event.

Jiménez said this is the third year they’ve had the event, and that it’s gotten more popular every year. She said that last year, more than 300 people attended.

The Día de los Muertos event will take place Thursday from 7 to 10 p.m. in the Jayhawk Room at the Kansas Union, 1301 Jayhawk Blvd.

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