Dia de los Muertos brings culture, spirituality to Halloween season

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Illustration by Juan Carlos Campos

Illustration by Juan Carlos Campos

Dual events remember deceased loved ones and the Hispanic culture’s prevalence in San Antonio.

By Courtney Kaiser


Students, staff and faculty can honor their ancestors this week with traditional arts and crafts from a centuries-old Hispanic holiday.

The mortuary science department and office of student life are hosting two events in celebration of Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.

The first is at 2 p.m. Oct. 27 in the Fiesta Room of Loftin Student Center for the construction of a traditional altar.

The second event begins at 8 a.m. Oct. 29 and includes activities such as papel picado, skull decorating and an overview of Día de los Muertos

“I think for us it gives an opportunity to provide a cultural aspect set apart from Halloween,” mortuary science Chair Felix Gonzales said. “So many young folks know about Halloween, but not the religious or spiritual aspect of this time of year.”

The tradition has been observed for the past six years, occasionally taking place in the department, Gonzales said. Halloween has always dominated the end of October so scheduling the Día de los Muertos event can be challenging. Last year mortuary science was unable to secure a room outside the department, Gonzales said.

This year they were able to get it located where everyone on campus has better access, said Carrie Hernandez, senior student success specialist.

“We couldn’t have it on Nov. 2 because the room was unavailable,” Hernandez said.

Traditionally observed Nov. 2, Día de los Muertos has been celebrated for more than 500 years. Deeply rooted in the Hispanic culture, the day traces all the way back to the Aztecs.

“There is always some sort of cultural tradition or celebration regardless of your culture to remember loved ones,” Gonzales said.

An altar is traditionally built as a way of paying tribute to family members or important people in one’s life who have died.

“We do ask that when bringing in photographs or things, people bring in a copy,” Gonzales said. “We don’t want anything to happen to their originals.”

Altars are composed of photographs, foods, flowers, memorabilia and papel picado banners to celebrate loved ones.

“Marigolds are the most popular flower used on altars and people often bring a deceased one’s favorite food dish or pan de muerto,” he said. Pan de muerto is a sweet bread in a variety of shapes and decorations.

“It’s their way of remembering or grieving,” Hernandez said. “It means a lot to people.”

Papel picado, skull decorating and an overview of Día de los Muertos are scheduled for Thursday.

Papel picado is a folded and cut paper similar to tissue paper, Hernandez said. When it is opened, it reveals intricate designs.

“We’ve been running around like crazy trying to gather all of the supplies for the event,” she said.

For skull decorating, students receive a cardboard mask and different paints and embellishments to decorate it. When they are finished, they can take it home.

“I’m excited for the event and am hoping I am able to sit down and participate this year,” Hernandez said. “I think students will really enjoy it.”

Thursday’s activities will end with a PowerPoint presentation on Día de los Muertos history, traditions and the use of specific colors for meaning.

“I prefer to think about it as the day of the living celebrating the dead,” Gonzales said.

The events are free and open to anyone on campus. Call the mortuary science department at 210-486-1137.


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