A Cure For Your Halloween Hangover: Dia De Los Muertos on Cherokee Street


  • image courtesy Minerva Lopez
Halloween is a pretty sweet holiday. Literally. Candy of every shape and flavor is heaped into the baskets of small children, providing a much-needed excuse for a suger-fueled cavity-inducing bender that's been lining dentists' pockets for decades. Adults, in addition to sneaking their own sugar-fix, get to dress up in silly (or slutty) costumes and drink themselves silly.

The Mexican Día de los Muertos-- the Day of the Dead-- takes all those things and ups the ante with better food, more drinking, and some existential spiritual pondering.

This Sunday from 1-7 p.m., for the third consecutive year, the Latino-owned businesses of Cherokee Street will celebrate the holiday with storefront ofrendas (shrines with offerings to the dead), free samples of traditional Day of the Dead food (mole, tamales, day of the dead bread), and music (described by one event organizer as "something very happy where we mock death.")

The festivities will take place at the intersection of Cherokee and California Streets. A fake graveyard will be set up on the sidewalk and participants will re-enact a traditional Mexican Day of the Dead visit to a cemetery.

"For us it's a party, you're not going to get spooked by anything on Cherokee," says organizer Minerva Lopez. "The tombs will be dedicated to people who died of things like breast cancer or when they were coming across the border."

Participating businesses include Carniceria Latino Americana, El Torito, Gooolll!, El Chico Bakery, and Carrillo Western Wear. Full servings of the food samples will be for sale, as will colorful calaveras, sugar cube skulls.

For the uninitiated, here's a little history of the ancient holiday via Wikipedia:

Many people believe that during the Day of the Dead, it is easier for the souls of the departed to visit the living. People go to cemeteries to communicate with the souls of the departed, and build private altars, containing the favorite foods and beverages, as well as photos and memorabilia, of the departed. The intent is to encourage visits by the souls, so that the souls will hear the prayers and the comments of the living directed to them. Celebrations can take a humorous tone, as celebrants remember funny events and anecdotes about the departed.

Plans for the day are made throughout the year, including gathering the goods to be offered to the dead. During the two-day period, families usually clean and decorate graves; most visit the cemeteries where their loved ones are buried and decorate their graves with ofrendas (offerings), which often include orange marigolds called "cempasúchitl" (originally named cempoalxochitl, Nahuatl for "twenty (i.e., many) flowers"). In modern Mexico, this name is sometimes replaced with the term "Flor de Muerto" ("Flower of the Dead"). These flowers are thought to attract souls of the dead to the offerings.

Toys are brought for dead children (los angelitos, or "the little angels"), and bottles of tequila, mezcal or pulque or jars of atole for adults. Families will also offer trinkets or the deceased's favorite candies on the grave. Ofrendas are also put in homes, usually with foods such as candied pumpkin, pan de muerto ("bread of the dead"), sugar skulls and beverages such as atole. The ofrendas are left out in the homes as a welcoming gesture for the deceased. Some people believe the spirits of the dead eat the "spiritual essence" of the ofrendas food, so even though the celebrators eat the food after the festivities, they believe it lacks nutritional value. Pillows and blankets are left out so that the deceased can rest after their long journey. In some parts of Mexico, such as the towns of Mixquic, Pátzcuaro and Janitzio, people spend all night beside the graves of their relatives. In many places people have picnics at the gravesite as well.
More info on Cherokee Street's 2009 Dia de los Muertos celebration by clicking here.


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