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Dia de los Muertos, Olvera Street

On November 1, 2010



With a name like Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), skulls and skeletons as its most recognized symbols and falling On November 1st and 2nd, this holiday appears to the uninitiated to be a Mexican version of Halloween; it is, however, a holy day, a day for remembering and revering the dead, a celebration of lives lived and memories made.

Dia de los Muertos celebrations mirror many Catholic rituals – such as the incense and smoke spiritual cleansing which often proceeds Day of the Dead processions – but their roots lie in the beliefs held for centuries by Mexican tribal peoples.  In the early 1900s, the skeleton art of Mexican lithographer José Guadalupe Posada meshed the image of the dancing calavera (skeleton) with Dia de los Muertos.  His skeletons – often pictured in the garb of life’s most important moments such as marriage – symbolized the easy interaction the Mexican people have with the hereafter.  Guadalupe Posada also used his calaveras to lampoon the Mexican upper class under the leadership of Porfirio Diaz.  La Catrina, the elegant society lady with a skeletal face, and El Catrin, her male counterpart have worked themselves into mainstream artwork.  Today, some Dia de los Muertos celebrations use the images in the same way to lament the suffering of indigenous peoples or to criticize injustice.

Ofrendas (altars) commemorate the lives of the departed and offer a place where friends, family and the spirits of those who have passed can feast and share memories.  They also serve as a way for younger family members and others to learn about the dead.  An ofrenda may have pictures and other articles that recall the dead person or persons and food to be eaten both by the spirits who visit during the season as well as their living relatives; in addition, religious icons intermixed with calaveras of all sorts and elaborate papel picado (paper cuts) often decorate the altars.

An ofrenda documenting the life of a loved in pictures and artifacts and inviting the spirit to come and enjoy a feast…

An ofrenda lamenting what its designers see as the failures of the government in its responsibilities and proposing a very direct and timely political solution.

Olvera Street, the Mexican market plaza in downtown Los Angeles across from Union Station, celebrates Dia de los Muertos annually with a week of nightly processions each evening through November 2nd.  The procession begins at 7 p.m. near the market’s  entrance at Cesar E. Chavez Avenue and travels the length of the market to the grand stand where families and organizations have built their ofrendas.

Olvera Street entrance off of Cesar Chavez Avenue…

welcoming skulls…

a friendly skeleton…

the procession begins…

much like a New Orleans funeral, a band leads the way…

reminiscent of a whirling dervish, a dancing skeleton twirls his robes and is followed by a skeletal acolyte…

a cavalera bride and

and her skeleton groom approach

followed by her ladies-in-waiting

and a retinue of children bring up the rear.

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