The day before Halloween, Casa Latina was stirring with creative preparations for the Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos). Sophomore Zoe Hatton cooked about two gallons of ponche, a hot Mexican punch made of apples, fruit cocktail, cinnamon and raspberry tea, and gave away festive knitted dolls. Junior Díana Razo made the sugar mixture used to make decorative skulls. Junior Devin Harvie crafted the first papel picado: a colored tissue paper with designs cut out of it, used to decorate the Día de los Muertos altar.
After the sugar mixture was ready, attendants used cookie cutters to make skull-shaped molds, which they decorated with feathers, glitter and beads in addition to more papeles picados. Each decoration was unique: there were skulls that looked dainty, fearsome and one that resembled Elvis. The designs cut out from papeles picados ranged from symmetrical to asymmetrical and abstractions to hearts and stars.
In Mexico, Día de los Muertos altars are decorated with the sugar skulls, papeles picados and dolls seen at the workshop, and families share a meal in front of it. The reasons for this are many.
According to senior Ashley Gonzalez, Día de los Muertos is “like a happy Memorial Day. […] People clean up the graves of their loved ones and make them food to keep up their strength in the afterlife. In Mexico, a cemetery isn’t a scary place; it’s a placed to be with loved ones again.”
Hatton described it as “a day to commemorate the dead and celebrate the living.”
Razo explaind that “spirits come back for one day. You can bring them a favorite toy or food. Everyone eats it, but you leave some for the dead.”
Flowers and photos of the dead being honored may also be placed at the altar. Casa Latina’s altar contained a picture of Liz Barry, a friend of Hatton’s who recently passed away.
The Día de los Muertos workshop provided a good opportunity for Knox students to express their creativity, enjoy a hot drink and celebrate life while remembering the dead.