Sunday, November 04, 2012

Dia de los Muertos
A Celebration of Loved Ones at Springs Preserve

A Traditional Altar

by Julie Kasperson

I have always wanted to attend a Dia de los Muertos (“Day of the Dead”) celebration. Ever since I was a child growing up in the suburbs of L.A., I was curious about the rituals and traditions associated with it. I watched films at school, showing the ofrendas or altars decorated with flowers, bread (“pan de muerto”) and other food, and gifts for the departed. I was transfixed by the creation of the sugar skulls (“calaveras”) and the prevalent images of the Catrinas, female figures with skulls as faces, originally created by Mexican illustrator Jose Guadalupe Posada, who named his creation La Calavera Catrina (“The Elegant Skull”), a parody of the Mexican upper-class female.

The observance of El Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) dates from pre-Columbian times. It is believed by many that this is the time when those who have passed away are allowed to return to earth to visit with their families and friends. This occasion, on November 1 and 2, ceremonially and festively honors those who have died, and brings focus to the other aspects of the life cycle: fertility and life for the future.

El Dia de los Muertos is celebrated in Mexico by decorating shop windows, cleaning and decorating the cemetery, creating special fantastic flower wreaths, making small and large toys and figurines featuring the famous calaveras (skulls and skeletons sometimes accompanied by verses), and by installing tianguis (special temporary markets) to sell the necessary items for the ofrendas. Zenpasuchitl, a type of marigold, is the traditional flower of the occasion and altars are often covered with the bright orange petals. The baker, confectioner, cook, florist and artist are essential to the Days of the Dead.

The most important manifestations of this holiday are the ofrendas, or altars made of offerings, created in homes, businesses and public places. The altars honor the dead to assure the continuity of life. In the Mexican tradition, those who are dead provide the necessary connection between the living and God and the Saints. The celebration is often called Los Dias de los Muertos because two important days are recognized. November 1, All Saints' Day, is devoted to los angelitos (little children), and November 2, All Souls' Day, to adults.

As I strolled the grounds of Springs Preserve that evening, I observed many people, both adults and children, with faces painted to resemble a calavera. There were booths selling Mexican food, some that offered games for the children, and others that showcased arts and crafts dedicated to the observance of this yearly tradition. There was also an exhibition of Traditional, Artistic, and Non-Profit categories of ofrendas, which the public could vote on and choose their favorite. Some children showed me their sugar skulls that they painted and decorated during their visit to the Preserve.

I also enjoyed seeing the many colorfully dressed adults and children that danced and entertained attendees. Day of the Dead is not a somber occasion. It is one of remembrance, spiced with stories, humor, art, music and dance.

The Springs Preserve is considered the birthplace of Las Vegas. It is a certified wildlife habitat, contains award-winning gardens, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Located only a few minutes from the Strip, it offers a refuge from the hustle and bustle of the city. It is a 180-acre cultural institution designed to commemorate Las Vegas’ dynamic history and provides a vision for the future. Many events are held on the grounds of Springs Preserve during the year; some are holiday-related, others are for charity and fund-raising. I for one am grateful for the opportunity to enjoy its surroundings and I’m happy that this organization appreciates and highlights different cultures and traditions.

All photo credits: Julie Kasperson,

© 2012 Julie Kasperson - All rights reserved.

-VegasJules ( Julie Kasperson ) can be contacted through her facebook page.

More Photos ( click to enlarge ) ...

La Calavera Catrina

An Altar On Display

Dancer In The Audience

Dancer Onstage

Artist Murbina Painting A Skull Mask

Part Of Large Altar Installation
Made Of Recycled Materials

Part Of Another Altar Installation

Girl Getting Her Face Painted


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