FARGO - Broadway Square in downtown Fargo will be alive with colors, candles and skeletons on Tuesday, Nov. 2.

The Fargo Park District is celebrating Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, with festivities meant to educate about and honor the Mexican tradition.

The event, from 4 - 6 p.m., will feature a talk by Eduardo Marcel Sanchez, owner of the food truck Casa Delicia Eatery, about the significance of the day.

Messages left for Sanchez were not returned when this article was written.

The celebration will also show people how to make an ofrenda, or altar, how to create and decorate sugar skulls, samples of traditional recipes and Dia de los Muertos activities (coloring, crosswords, etc.) for kids and more.

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Spanish ties

While some associate Dia de los Muertos with Halloween, it’s a different holiday, though also connected through Christianity.

Halloween’s basis is All Hallow’s Eve, the day before All Hallow’s Day, or All Saints’ Day on the Christian calendar, a solemn holiday to honor saints in the Church. The following day, Nov. 2, is All Souls' Day, a day to remember family and friends who have died.

“It’s really a three-day feast on the Catholic calendar,” says Bradley Benton, who teaches Mexican and Latin American history at North Dakota State University.

Dia de los Muertos is really a mash-up of European and Mexican traditions and a twist on the feasts of the first two days of November.

“When the Spanish came to Mexico, natives recognized parallels in how they remember the dead,” he explains. “In Spain some people may clean the graves of loved ones. In Mexico, people will not only clean the graves, but they may cover them in flowers and elaborate things. Families may have a meal at the gravesite to remember someone with their favorite food.”

The website, www.dayofthedead.holiday, created by Mexicans, dedicated solely to the holiday, says the holiday is celebratory, not mournful.

“There is festive music and definitely no crying or grieving. This is a reflective and lively get-together honoring the deceased back to celebrate life and enjoy all the human things again,” it states.

The celebrations aren’t limited to graveyards. In homes, people will construct ofrendas, with marigolds, which are believed to be so potent smelling and visually vibrant that they will guide souls back. Food, drink, candles, papel picados - a decorative perforated paper - and photos of loved ones also are part of ofrendas. And, of course, colorful representations of skulls in everything from baked goods to paper decorations.

José Guadalupe Posada's iconic print, “La Calavera Catrina.” submitted
José Guadalupe Posada's iconic print, “La Calavera Catrina.” submitted

Truth about bones

The skull, or calavera, has a long history of being used in Mexican celebrations, according to www.dayofthedead.holiday. Pre-Columbian Aztecs worshipped the Goddess Mictecacihuatl, who ruled the afterlife and the dead. She was depicted as a skeleton who wore a crown of flowers and skulls.

People would also use clay figurines of skeletons and skulls in pre-Columbian celebrations of the dead. After the Spanish arrived, the skulls started being made with molds and a mix of sugar and paste. Today the sugar skulls are often placed on ofrendas, sometimes with the name of a loved one written on it.

“They’re not afraid of incorporating (skulls and skeletons) into their altars,” Benton says. “There’s a greater willingness to see death as a part of life.”

Early 20th Century Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada is often credited with further animating the skeletons. The illustrator tapped into the tradition and often clothed his drawn skeletons to create political cartoons.

His most popular image, “La Calavera Catrina,” depicts a skeleton with an elaborate European-style hat, a commentary on Mexicans eager to adopt European aristocratic culture. The image is now more associated with Dia de los Muertos and paved the way for imagery of women during the holiday, dressed festively with decorative skull makeup.



If you go

What: Dia de los Muertos educational celebration

When: 4 - 6 p.m., Tuesday

Where: Broadway Square, Broadway and Second Avenue, N., Fargo

Info: This event is free and open to the public