Mortuary science celebrates Dia de Los Muertos

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Mortuary science freshman Michael Hall and Professor Francisco E. Solis carry a decorated altar to the middle of the stage during the Day of the Dead workshop Nov. 1 in Loftin. It has been a tradition in the department to bring awareness to the way death is viewed in the Mexican culture.  Photo by Carolina Vela

Mortuary science freshman Michael Hall and Professor Francisco E. Solis carry a decorated altar to the middle of the stage during the Day of the Dead workshop Nov. 1 in Loftin. It has been a tradition in the department to bring awareness to the way death is viewed in the Mexican culture. Photo by Carolina Vela

By AMANDA RIOS

sac-ranger@alamo.edu 

Thirty students celebrated Dia de los Santos and Dia de los Muertos Nov. 1 in the Fiesta Room of Loftin Student Center.

These are Mexican observations in which people honor lives of loved ones who have died. Dia de los Santos is celebrated Nov. 1 to remember children, and Dia de los Muertos is observed Nov. 2 to remember adults.

This Mexican holiday tradition has been going on for 500 years.

The mortuary science department decided to celebrate this event because they wanted to give students the experience, mortuary science Professor Francisco E. Solis said.

Mortuary science students work in funeral homes, and most funeral homes will have a celebration or place an altar for families to celebrate the dead, he said.

“It’s a way to get the community back into the funeral home, but not because of a religious service,” Solis said.

He said that mortuary science students who work in San Antonio will be servicing Hispanic families because Hispanics make up the majority of the population.

“So we are just giving you awareness of the culture,” he said. “In our (Hispanic) culture, we expose children to death early in age because we do not want them to fear death.”

Solis explained that in Mexican culture, people die three times. “We die when we are born, we die when we are dead and we die when we are forgotten,” he said.

The event in Loftin included three workshops. The first workshop included the explanation of the holiday.

“The difference between Halloween and Dia de los Muertos and Dia de los Santos is that it started out as a thing about death. It didn’t start off as a pagan holiday like Halloween,” Solis said.

The skeletons placed for decoration are mocking death because this holiday is a celebration of life, not death, he said.

“For the next two days, families are going to be revisited by their loved ones, so we prepared an altar for the dead because they have been traveling, they are hungry, and they need to replenish,” he said.

The workshop included making “alfeñiques,” which means sugar skull in Spanish.  Alfeñiques are made of sugar and egg whites and are a traditional part of the culture. The department decided to buy chocolate in the shapes of skulls to decorate.

Alfeñiques are being used less often and are being replaced by chocolate because children will eat them after they decorate them, he said.

The students decorated the skulls with frosting in bright colors, such as blue, orange, green and red.

“The skulls are painted in bright colors because we want the spirits to see where they are landing,” Solis said.

The students also decorated sugar skull drawings that were later hung in the Fiesta Room.

The second workshop demonstrated to students how to make papel picado or punch paper by mortuary science Chair Felix Gonzales. Papel picado was founded in Asia.

“It was believed that the paper decorations were the windows to the world, that they were filled with magic,” Gonzales said.

Papel picado is used to decorate the altars that are set up for the dead. “Papel picado is used to attract the attention of the souls traveling,” he said.

The third workshop was a PowerPoint slide about the symbolisms of the holiday presented by Professor Jose Luis Moreno.

“Death is not something that the majority of the Mexican-Americans fear. In fact, it is even embraced,”  he said.

“It is not the Mexican version of Halloween. It is not scary, not sacrilegious, or a sad ritual,” he said.

“We honor those gone but not forgotten. You can compare it to other cultures like the Aztecs or the Spaniards and see how our culture is not similar,” he said.

Moreno said marigold flowers are the most commonly used flower when decorating an altar. He explains that when decorating, bright flowers should be used. Moreno presented colors used in altars and their meanings. Purple represents pain, white represents hope, bright pink represents celebration, and orange and yellow represent light.

“Hispanic culture includes everybody, not just immediate family, so it includes cousins and family friends,” he said.

Moreno then explained elements and colors that are needed to be present on an altar.

To represent Earth, people will put out flowers, usually marigolds. To represent wind, papel picado is used to decorate the altar so that it flows in the wind to direct the souls. Water is represented on the altar by bringing drinks for the dead. Fire is represented by candles to direct the dead to the light.

Altars are set up at graveyards but are not seen as being disrespectful in the Mexican culture because they are honoring the souls that have passed. At the end of the workshop, students brought pictures of the deceased to the altar made by the department and decorated the Fiesta Room with papel picado made during the workshop.

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