I have to begin this column with some sad news. But hopefully by the end of it, my words will bring some solace to those feeling the pain of losing someone dear to them.

On Aug. 17, my father succumbed to his more-than-a-decade long battle with Parkinson’s disease. I am still grieving and think I will be for a long time, but there is something that’s helping to alleviate my sorrow: Día de los Muertos is almost here.

And on this day, I will get to visit with my dad.

Día de los Muertos is a long-standing tradition in Mexico that dates back to the Aztec empire — and quite possibly before. Post-conquest, the Spaniards introduced the Christian belief of All Souls Day and today, we have kind of a mesh of Indigenous traditions with the modern-day celebrations. 

Even though it translates to “Day of the Dead,” Día de los Muertos is not a morbid holiday. Neither is it necessarily a day for mourning. Rather, it is a celebration of life and time to honor our ancestors. I read somewhere once that it’s a family reunion, only the spirits of our deceased ancestors are the guests of honor.

Traditionally celebrated on Nov. 1 and 2, it is not uncommon for families to begin the holiday’s preparations weeks in advance.

There are many ways to celebrate, and, nowadays, there are many community events that provide everyone opportunities to learn about the holiday, as well as participate in its traditions.

One way to celebrate is to build an altar in the home, also known as an ofrenda. These serve as a portal — of sorts — for your deceased loved ones to come and visit the land of the living.

This file photo from 2015 is of an altar set up at the CHAC Gallery for one of the venue’s previous exhibits. It honors Carlos Martinez, the former director of CHAC Gallery, who passed away in 2005. Photo by Christy Steadman

I’ve celebrated Día de los Muertos at a variety of community events through the years — I assure you they are a lot of fun — but this will be the first year my family and I will be building our own ofrenda. And luckily, here in the Denver area, I have plenty of resources to help me.

The Latino Cultural Arts Center is in its fourth year of offering its Ofrendas program, which takes place at different venues throughout Denver in October. It includes a variety of free and family-friendly workshops during which attendees get to learn about some of the different elements of an altar as well craft them. These include sugar skulls and candle decorating.

The CHAC (Chicano Humanities and Arts Council) Gallery also has an interesting exhibit coinciding with Día de los Muertos. It’s called “Life, Death and Rebirth: Vida, Muerte y Renacimiento” and features the work of local artist Shay Guerrero. The exhibit runs through Nov. 17, and CHAC settled into its new Denver location at 834 Santa Fe Dr. in the arts district there in September.

An old photo of my nieces while we were out celebrating Día de los Muertos, probably about 10 years ago — Cassie, left, is now 16 and Morgan, right, is now 20. Photo by Christy Steadman

Día de los Muertos is a wonderful holiday, and I hope you and yours are able to celebrate it and/or learn more about its rich traditions this year.

I know my dad is always with me. Little signs prove this, like the vibrant double rainbow perfectly arched over my condo as I was leaving to run errands the other day. And the shooting star I saw while sitting on my balcony enjoying a nighttime decaf.

But Día de los Muertos is different. It’s a special time for us to reflect on the love we have for our departed and to celebrate their life. I know my dad will be here with us this Día de los Muertos, and I am so looking forward to his visit.

Christy Steadman is the editor of the Washington Park Profile, Life on Capitol Hill and Denver Herald newspapers. She started with Colorado Community Media in 2014, and as a reporter, covered Highlands...

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