The 19th annual event for Dia de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, came early to the Hollywood Forever Cemetery this year, and I was there to see it.  The cemetery celebrated with food, costume contests, altar exhibits, and Aztec dances.  Think of the event as an introduction.   The official dates for Dia de Los Muertos are from October 31 through November 2.  This period is a time that commemorates deceased family and friends.  It’s a time of remembrance.  It’s a time filled with symbols, which extend back to pre-Columbian cultures.  The skulls and the two-headed serpent are traceable to the Aztecs.

Altar with a two-headed serpent

Altar with a two-headed serpent

As it happens, the theme for the 2018 Hollywood Forever event was “Coatlicue, The Mother of the Gods” so it all ties together.

The Ofrendas

The offerings placed on decorated altars are the heart of this event.  Each is filled with traditional items, like the papel picado, the cut tissue paper.  I don’t claim to understand all this.  I come from the Midwest and know little of Dia de Los Muertos.  However, I do understand death, loss, and memories and I, therefore, went to the cemetery last week to see the Altars and to talk to the families.  There were about ninety altars decorated with food, pictures, and family mementos. They lined the main drives of the cemetery.  Some were dedicated to mothers, others to children who had died too young.

On Dia de Los Muertos one sees an abundance of bright orange marigolds.

Orange marigolds decorate an altar at the Forever Cemetery

Orange marigolds decorate an altar at the Forever Cemetery

The flowers guide the spirits to the altars so that they can be reunited with the living at this time.  If the spirits don’t have an altar to return to, they are forgotten, the ultimate death.  This all sounds a bit sad, but last weekend the event was a happy one, as many family members dressed for the occasion.

Woman dressed up for Dia de Los Muertos

This woman is sitting beside an altar atop which is a photo of her father.

Young and old participate; all are welcome.

The Aztec traditions

As I mentioned above, the theme was Aztec.  In a distant corner of the cemetery were two stages set up for the evening’s entertainment.  Around 3:00 in the afternoon things commenced with some Aztec dancing.  As the dancers performed on stage, others were getting ready near me.  In the distance I could see several people wearing antlers, perhaps for the Yaqui Deer Dance, but don’t quote me on that.  I liked this boy getting ready.

A man helps a boy don his deer mask

Getting help with the mask before dancing for the Dia de Los Muertos event

Amidst all the hubbub, there is something tender in this moment.

Later near the main gate, the Aztec dancers were performing to a crowd.  I squeezed in around the back, but the dancers seldom looked my way.  I managed to get a few images whenever they twirled.

Aztec dancer

Dancer at the Hollywood Forever Dia de Los Muertos event

It was a lovely afternoon, spent with colorful people.  I came away with a stronger realization of the importance of family and friends.,  Taking family photos is a good way to start keeping traditions alive.  Recounting family stories now had more importance for me.  Do you know any stories about your grandparents or great-grandparents?  More importantly, have you shared those stories with your children?  How can the family continue and memory flourish if members forget the stories?

Tips

As for the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, here are a few tips:

  • Arrive early next year.  The event usually starts at noon.  It only gets more crowded as the day goes on.
  • Use public transportation; parking is at a premium
  • Santa Monica Boulevard was almost in gridlock when I left at 4:00 in the afternoon.  Avoid driving.
  • There is an admission fee for the event.  You can purchase online or at the gate.  I’ve always purchased at the cemetery.
  • Sunscreen!
  • Be ready to walk

To see more images from my day at the Dia de Los Muertos event, please click here.

 

 

 

 

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