South Bay devotees embrace the colorful traditions of Día de los Muertos.
Dia De Los Muertos or the Day of the Dead, is an integral part of Latin culture with historical significance. A multi-day celebration of life, it’s a time to pay reverence to those that have passed along to another realm. The philosophy and traditions emphasize life as temporal and impermanent, and death as simply a continuing chapter of the human condition. The celebration is also a time to embrace family history … to learn about those who came before you and your connection to the community.
The juxtaposition and commingling of symbols of death and life are reflected in the folk art that figures prominently in the festivities. The deceased are remembered in a joyous way—even though the specter of death looms in the traditional art and customs. Eerie and artful calaca skeletons, calavera sugar skulls, flowers, traditional food, music and stories of loved ones blend the two worlds of the living and the dead in festive fashion.
Halloween’s Distant Cousin
The ritual remembrance of the departed may have some similarities to Halloween, yet the traditions differ on intention, symbols and cultural roots. Día de los Muertos is a sacred holiday that originated in Mexico and is a blending of indigenous Native American and pre-Colombian rituals with the traditions of Spanish Roman Catholics.
Where to Celebrate
Rituals start in the home and move to the gravesite in order to be closest to the souls of the dearly departed. Seasoned event participants praise the Hollywood Forever event, however you can find celebrations in Long Beach, San Pedro, San Diego and San Francisco. Check online for local event dates (typically late October through November 2) and details in your area.
Food favorites include: pan de muertos (bread of the dead), decorated cookies, champurrado, candied pumpkin, elotes (street-style corn), tamales and mole—to name a few. Pick one or two recipes to try, as many of the traditional foods can be complex or intricate to make from scratch, and enroll friends and family to help.
Restaurants and ethnic bakeries are also great resources. Decorated cookies and sugar skulls take practice and finesse to perfect, so plan ahead and check online for tutorials and hard-to-locate supplies.
Death in Bloom
Marigolds are the traditional flowers. They are specifically used to decorate the altars. Jenny Barker, floral artist and owner of Magical Blooms in Redondo Beach, suggests mixing in wildflowers and dahlias, which are native to Mexico, for an authentic look. For the flower crown on our model, she used a mix of vintage roses, marigolds, a few lavender orchids and Monarch butterflies.
Building the Altar
Great care is taken in building an altar, which represents four elements of creation: earth, fire, wind and water. The levels (typically three to seven) represent the stages the spirits go through to reach their final destination. Brightly colored and aromatic marigolds, often crafted in a floral arch, represent the bridge between the two worlds—earthly life and death. Offerings on the altar have personal, practical and symbolic meaning.
Sugar Skull Style
Face and body painting is an intricate yet fun part of the celebration. YouTube, Pinterest and Instagram have some great tutorials and reference photos. Consider hiring a skilled body or makeup artist for a professional look. Costumes can be handmade or rented from a costume shop. Local fabric and craft stores are great resources for accessories such as the cross veil, butterflies and bone garland used to accessorize our models.
Our South Bay Party Vendors
- Menu Inspiration, food product, prep and dining scene location courtesy of Ortega120 in Redondo Beach, ortega120.com
- Centerpieces, floral crown, floral styling, red altar and location courtesy of Jenny Barker at Magical Blooms, magicalblooms.com
- Face and body painting by artist Nicole Alderman, [email protected]
- Models and actors, Michael Porter and Deanna Porter
- Marigolds courtesy of Peters Garden Center in Redondo Beach, 310-372-2288