One of my favorite movies is Disney/Pixar’s “Coco.”
I love that it’s all about music and family — and Día de los Muertos.
I can’t pinpoint an exact timeframe in my past when I started getting interested in learning about Día de los Muertos, but it was likely when I was in college, during the peak of my travels to Mexico and studies of ancient and indigenous Mesoamerican cultures. I’m not going to date myself, but this was before one could find Día de los Muertos apparatus in general-merchandise big box stores.
Día de los Muertos is a beautiful holiday. It’s not a Mexican version of Halloween and it’s not about celebrating corpses. Instead, it’s a celebration of life, and a way to honor ancestors who have passed on.
And it’s got such a rich history, dating back more than 3,000 years.
Its roots belong to the indigenous cultures of Mexico (Aztecs and other Nahua people) who observed harvest season with rituals that embraced mortality and celebrated life after death. However, when the Spanish conquistadors arrived and discovered the Indians practicing a ritual they believed to be sacrilegious and mocking death, the Spaniards tried to put a stop to it.
As a result of conquest, the Spaniards attempted to convert the native people to Catholicism, but the indigenous peoples refused to relinquish their ritual of celebrating life after death. So, the Spaniards moved the dates to coincide with the Christian beliefs of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, which take place on Nov. 1 and 2, when the spirit of the dead visit their families.
Today, Día de los Muertos is celebrated in Mexico and parts of the south and central Americas, as well as in the U.S.
We are lucky here in Denver because we have many opportunities to celebrate modern-day Día de los Muertos and learn more about this ancient tradition. Here are some suggestions:
Note: this list only includes events in Denver proper. You will find many more Día de los Muertos events in the metro area with a Google search.
11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 9 at Hijos del Sol, 2715 W. Eighth Ave. in Denver
Attendees will have an opportunity to shop for high-quality handmade items for an altar, as well as a curated selection of clothing, jewelry & accessories, folk art and more. Those who are unable to attend Ofrendas Mercado, or are immunocompromised, can set-up an appointment by calling Adrianna at 720-353-2233. Some of the collection is for view online at lcac-denver.org/hijosdelsol.
Learn more: www.lcac-denver.org/ofrendas2021.
Incense Holder Workshop
1-4 p.m. Oct 16 at the Sun Valley Youth Center, 1230 Decatur St. in Denver
Copal has been used since ancient times and serves to link us to the past and to our loved ones. To continue this sacred use of copal, we will construct an incense burner and learn how it can be used to welcome the souls of the departed.
Learn more: www.lcac-denver.org/ofrendas2021
2-4 p.m. Oct. 16 at the Corky Gonzales Library, 1498 Irving St. in Denver
A partnership between the Chicano Humanities and Arts Council (CHAC) Gallery and the Denver Public Library, this family-friendly event includes creating and decorating sugar skulls while learning the history of Día de los Muertos.
Learn more: www.chacgallery.org.
Family Make and Take: Dia de los Muertos Miniature Ofrendas
Various times on Oct. 16, 17, 30 and 31 at the Denver Botanic Gardens
$15 per project fee; $12 member project fee
Attendees will create a miniature ofrenda in remembrance of a loved one. Families are encouraged to bring a photo copy of loved ones to include in their ofrenda. Materials provided are appropriate for children ages 5 and up. Preregistration is required.
Learn more: www.botanicgardens.org.
5:30-8:30 Oct. 20 at Raices Brewing Company, 2060 W. Colfax Ave. in Denver
Nichos are small “scenes” that bring remembrance into the physical. With these little boxes, we honor the memory of a loved one who has passed. Attendees will construct a nicho in memory of someone to be honored at home or on the community altar.
Día de los Muertos Celebration
9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 6
Cost is included with admission, 15 and under free
This event marks the 10th anniversary of the Denver Botanic Gardens’ Día de los Muertos Celebration. The event will include craft vendors, entertainment, kids crafts and a display of Nichos. There will not be face painting this year.
Something to look forward to: In 2022, the Ofrendas Documentary will make its way across Colorado, and will be unveiled next fall for educators, students and families.
The Ofrendas Documentary will tell the stories behind Day of the Dead in Denver and across Colorado over the last 50 years. The mini film features the history of Mexican/Chicano Denver, starting with Carlos Frequez’s 1993 screenprint, “Westside Wedding” at St. Cajetan church on what is now the Auraria Campus. Through the lenses of the Denver Catrina Troupe, Rosales Bakery, elders, young people, families and community leaders, we celebrate those who have passed and turn the collective losses into moments of remembrance, resilience and teaching.
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