Day of the Dead honors deceased loved ones with humor and prayer



It’s a celebration that involves wearing costumes, visiting cemeteries, honoring loved ones who have passed away, and thinking about death on an occasion where, some believe, the line that separates our world from the other is. weakens.

It is not Halloween but rather Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, a celebration of life, death and remembrance which is also a little whistle beyond the cemetery to remind that where find our deceased loved ones now, we will be someday too.

The Day of the Dead is celebrated on November 1 and 2. For 20 years, Irma Varela has organized Day of the Dead celebrations in southern Nevada, first at the Prince of Peace Catholic Church for two years and since then at the Winchester Dondero Cultural Center.

This year’s Life in Death Festival will be held from 5 pm to 9 pm Monday and Tuesday at the Center, 3130 S. McLeod Drive. The free event will include performances by Mexican dance groups, an art exhibition, numerous iconographies of skulls and skeletons, readings of calaveras literarias (satirical poems honoring personalities who have not yet died), programs for children and exhibitions of ofrendas or domestic altars. created to honor deceased loved ones.

Traditionally, the Day of the Dead is “supposedly a day when the world of the dead joins the world of the living and they can come and visit,” says Varela, cultural program manager at the center. “It’s like a door that opens through which the dead can enter.

“For some it is a very holy day because it connects with your roots.”

Jorge Galindo, associate professor of Spanish at UNLV, says Day of the Dead likely has its origins in a mesh of indigenous Mexican culture with Catholic influences after the Spanish conquest of Mexico.

Festive celebration

“Basically, the Catholic tradition is to go to the cemetery and respect those close to you. It was the tradition in all the Catholic countries of Europe. But in the case of Mexico and Guatemala, for example, it’s also a celebration of life, basically. According to tradition, God allows deceased people to return to this world to visit and celebrate with loved ones, ”says Galindo.

Auxiliary Bishop of Las Vegas, Gregory Gordon, is a former pastor of St. Anne’s Catholic Church who saw the zeal with which the Day of the Dead was celebrated among parishioners of Mexican and Latin descent.

According to Gordon, the Catholic Church observes November 1 as All Saints ‘Day, when “we remember the saints in glory in heaven”, and November 2 as All Saints’ Day, when Catholics pray for those in purgatory “awaiting purification. final to enter paradise. “

The Day of the Dead can be “a very festive expression of what we believe in,” says Gordon, who recalls being invited by parishioners to lead All Saints’ Day prayers in the cemetery for deceased loved ones.

“The church has a special blessing from the graves on the feast of the dead. We would go out, a deacon and myself and usually a guitarist, and we would pray the blessing (with) everyone who visited, and it was usually in the hundreds, and then we would go maybe from grave to grave for an individual blessing.

For Gordon, the Day of the Dead – if not celebrated by drunkenness or other less than spiritual behavior – represents “a cultural adaptation (of) what we Catholic Christians believe about our loved ones. deceased. Not everyone leaves Earth ready to contemplate the presence of God.

For several years now, the Palm Downtown cemetery has welcomed family members who celebrate the Day of the Dead at the graves of their loved ones. Last year’s event, as well as this year’s event, was put on hold due to COVID-19, but Travis Crandall, general manager of Palm Mortuary and Cemetery Downtown, expects mourners to arrive this year anyway.

“In the years that we have been able to hold it, literally thousands of people have come here to our lovely little graveyard,” Crandall said. “They would start (arrive) before dark and not stop until the next day.”

Customers placed offerings at ofrendas’ tomb and brought mementos of loved ones, he said, and some “laid out the blankets and ate a full meal.” The cemetery would pitch a tent and provide night lighting, and some families would hire musicians to perform.

“It’s very festive,” Crandall said. “It’s very different from a traditional celebration.

Varela attended Day of the Dead celebrations while growing up in north-central Mexico. “I remember a lot of people getting together,” she said, as she toured the cemetery, cleaning everyone’s grave and bringing flower offerings.

“What I remember is very traditional,” says Varela – singing and door-to-door to vendors and neighbors to receive gifts of fruit, her parents encouraging the children to “value your roots and your family, honor them and remember them. “

“That’s what we started to do” with the Life in Death festival here, says Varela. “For me, the Day of the Dead… was about remembering, connecting to (your) roots.

“I never wanted it to be too big. The festival must connect people, connect experiences and culture.

4K guests per day

She estimates that the Life in Death festival attracts around 4,000 guests each day, and she has noticed the growing popularity of Day of the Dead-themed events in the city.

“I think as long as you have a conversation it’s fine. That’s the goal, ”says Varela. “For me, the goal is to create understanding and community. “

Still, it’s a safe bet that some attendees may not quite understand the significance of the celebration, and an even safer bet that some think it might just be a Halloween of a year. other culture.

“People are confused,” says Varela.

Thanks to films such as the 2017 animated film “Coco” and a splash streak in the 2015 James Bond film “Specter”, Day of the Dead has its pop culture close-up, and Varela fears its meaning may one day be lost.

“It has become commercial. It’s the only part I don’t like, ”says Varela. But, she adds, “I’d like to think the meaning is still struggling to stay relevant.”

Contact John Przybys at or 702-383-0280. Follow @JJPrzybys on Twitter.

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