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Altar presentation lures back spirits for Dia de los Muertos

By Tessa Byrns
On November 8, 2011

The presentation of the altars is a traditional celebration during the Dial de los Muertos, and the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan student group kept this tradition alive at UNC Tuesday.

The Semana de los Muertos celebration officially ended last week on the Day of the Dead, Nov. 2, but the presentation of the altars had to be postponed due to the University of Northern Colorado's campus closure Oct. 26.

The altars feature some of the favorite items of those who have passed on, such as food or toys, and are constructed to lure the dead back to Earth for Dial de los Muertos.   

"El Dial de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, is when families congregate at gravesites, homes or community events across the Southwest and Mexico to honor those that have passed on," said Priscilla Falcon, a professor of Hispanic studies. "People bring tools to clean the gravesites, shrines or final resting places of the dearly departed."

Dial de los Muertos celebrations continue to be important in Mexican culture.

"They provide a visible and effective way of maintaining and even strengthening traditions that have their roots in the Spanish and later Mexican popular cultural practices," Falcon said. "At the same time, they serve an important social function of allowing communities to maintain a collective identity."

Students who participated in the event said they thought it was a good idea to help the community learn more about other cultures.

"I didn't really know much about the event before I started researching it and listening to the other groups," said Brianna Rodriguez, a freshman elementary education major. "When I started researching more about the altars, then I was eager to show off my knowledge of the altars to the other members of the class and the community."

Other students said they felt the same way about the event.

"It was great preparing for the event," said Rachel Schreiber, a freshman early childhood education major. "Making the projects was a great experience."

There are many different customs within Chicano culture that were seen during the Altars event.

"The custom of paying tribute to the dead is worldwide and is celebrated by different cultures on various days of the year," Falcon said. "Many families often celebrate at the gravesite in the form of music, prayer and memory. Traditionally, many believe that the departed loved ones come home for a visit and therefore should be welcomed in music, song and festivities.  

Falcon said food is another important aspect of the Dia de los Muertos celebration.

"Calaveras," or sugar skulls, are a popular food item. The skulls are often decorated with bright colors and are used to both honor and serve as a mortality reminder to the living.

"The calaver is used to poke fun at death but is also a stark reminder that, regardless of our temporary youth, beauty, power or wealth, all of us will eventually become skeletons," Falcon said.

This year's celebration included themes such as Aztec celebration, modern day celebrations, popular poems, Jose Guadalupe Posada, K-12 teaching units on the Dia de los Muertos, children's literature and toys of the Day of the Dead.

"The Day of the Dead is, in general, a happy celebration of family and fond memories of loved ones," Falcon said.

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