7 things to know about Day of the Dead | SteamboatToday.com

7 things to know about Day of the Dead

“Dia de Los Muertos in the ‘Boat” will be held Friday for the inaugural event that will benefit Integrated Communities.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Día de los Muertos is not a holiday that’s spooky, scary or full of ghost tales; it’s a celebration.

It's a day rooted in Mexican culture, celebrated around the world, in which altars are built to honor the dead by leaving ofrendas — offerings — in the form of skull candies and traditional food to sustain souls on the post-mortem journey.

Steamboat Springs will host an inaugural "Dia de los Muertos in the 'Boat" — Day of the Dead celebration — from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday in Library Hall at the Bud Werner Memorial Library.

If you go

What: “Dia de Los Muertos in the ‘Boat”
When: 5 to 9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2
Where: Bud Werner Memorial Library, 1289 Lincoln Ave.

"This holiday is an opportunity to share culture and build community," said Jorge Avila, lead organizer for the local festivities.

The event will include face painting, sugar skull cookie decorating and a unique entertainment program with music from Los de la Mina and a "Ballet Folklorico" by Raices de mi Tierra, both local performers.

Families are invited to celebrate a loved one by participating in the Day of the Dead Community Altar. Free altar mementos will be available to recognize loved ones or people may bring a picture or other memento to be placed on the altar and shared with the community.

Traditional food will also be featured at the event with "nichos," or shadow boxes, created by Steamboat middle school and high school students, and decorations to educate and entertain all who attend.

With the help of several staff members at Integrated Community and community volunteers, Avila has been able to connect with businesses, Steamboat schools and organizations, like the Young Bloods Collective, to secure the resources to support the event. All proceeds will benefit Integrated Community.

"There’s a lot of great energy around this event," said Carol Swaim, one of the event volunteers. "The schools have been teaching a curriculum around the Day of the Dead, and close to 30 students will be participating as volunteers, artists and dancers. We couldn’t have done this without their support."

It's not one day of celebrating, but two

Day of the Dead originated in the Aztec cultures, thousands of years ago, when mourning the deceased was considered disrespectful. Death was considered more of a natural phase in life. Those who passed were kept alive in memory and spirit, especially during Día de los Muertos. It takes place Nov. 1 to honor the children who have died and Nov. 2 to honor the adults who have passed.

"Traditionally, it's a family-oriented celebration," Swaim said. "But recently, many cities around the world have begun to celebrate as a community as well with parades and other festivities to honor the dead."

It's a celebration of life, not death

"Día de Muertos is a celebration that give us hope," Avila said. "We embrace the fact of death as a transition in the event of life."

Altars are not for worshipping

The centerpiece of the festivities, the altar or ofrenda, are meant to welcome spirits back to the realm of living. Offerings, according to tradition, can be anything from water, food, family photos, toys, marigold flowers and candles for relatives who have passed.

Skulls or "calaveritas"

Calaveritas is Spanish for "little skulls," the traditional treat of this particular holiday. The skulls are often seen on the altars, gravestones and costumes. The sugar skulls vary in color, size and levels of complexity.

Bone bread is a typical food

Known as "pan de muerto," this is the traditional sweet bread eaten for the holiday. It's richness is flavored with anise or orange flower water. The bread is also traditionally kneaded and shaped to resemble two or more crossed bones.

The music

Music is very important, especially when it comes to reflecting the cultural significance at a Day of the Dead celebration.

"It's about the memories of the people who are not with us anymore," Avila said. "So we play music and sing, so they can know that wherever they are, that we are happy."

All are equal

Another aspect of this festival Avila explained is the acknowledgement that "at death, all are equal."

"It forces us to stop and remember that we are all traveling together on this journey called life," Avila said. "Reminding us that how we travel is more important than the stuff we accumulate along the way."

To reach Audrey Dwyer, call 970-871-4229, email adwyer@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @Audrey_Dwyer1.

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