We attended and performed for Celebrate Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) at the Eiteljorg Museum with partner Nopal Cultural this past Saturday, October 29. There’s still time to visit Nopal Cultural’s Día de los Muertos Linocut Prints and Altar Exhibition that will be on display and FREE to view through Nov. 2 in the Lilly Auditorium at the Eiteljorg Museum. Read below to learn more about Día de los Muertos and the events that happened this past Saturday. 2017 Update: The event is being held Oct 28 from 11am-5pm, learn more here.
While many people make a correlation between Día de los Muertos and Halloween, in reality they are very distinct celebrations. While the events share complex histories and similar symbology and traditions like skeletons, costumes, and sweets, the origins and rituals are quite different. Halloween originated as a European pagan holiday rooted in fear and tricks: Europeans worried that evil spirits would steal their crops, so they dressed in costumes to scare the spirits away. Día de los Muertos on the other hand, has always been a gathering to celebrate the souls of the deceased. Carving pumpkins are clearly tied to the farming origins of Halloween, however in the case of Día de los Muertos, unscathed apples and other foods, photographs, and symbols of life are placed on an altar to honor family members past. While our Americanized Halloween ritual is about trickery, pretending to be someone else for a night, and embracing all things spooky, Día de los Muertos is not intended to be scary at all: this holiday is about celebrating life and memories with family and welcoming the spirits of the deceased to join the festivities. At Classical Music Indy we believe understanding and celebrating the traditions of other cultures is essential to community inclusion.
Last year we had Steven Lane sit down with two of Nopal Cultural’s founding members, Daniel Del Real and Eduardo Luna, while they made paper flowers for the upcoming celebration. Del Real explained that Día de los Muertos is an ancient, native celebration honoring the lives of the dead. It originates in Mesoamerican cultures in the region that now makes up Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and El Salvador as a month-long observance in remembrance of lost loved ones. Upon the arrival of the Spanish to the area, Día de los Muertos is now traditionally celebrated on All Saints Day, November 1. “I want to emphasize that it is an indigenous holiday,” Del Real stated while putting the final touches on a few skeleton masks that will be worn by dancers doing the dance of los diablos.
Día de los Muertos is celebrated by families and communities by erecting altars that honor the dead. Items that symbolize earth, wind, fire, and water are placed on the altars along with the deceased’s favorite foods and drink. A photo of the deceased is placed on the altar which will also be adorned with local flowers in bloom during the season.
People will spend time with their loved ones living and otherwise at the cemetery, where they will clean around the graves and think of the ones who have passed on. A lot of music can be heard at the cemeteries at this time. Traveling bands will visit the families and play the dearly departed’s favorite tunes.
At this year’s Celebrate Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) at the Eiteljorg Museum with partner Nopal Cultural, we had Classical Music Indy regular, John Alvarado from the Indianapolis Society of the Classical Guitar perform. He played traditional Latin guitar pieces and took time to explain the meaning behind the pieces, drawing attention to the connections to Día de los Muertos. Check out a Traditional Rumba, arranged and performed by John Alvarado below:
Celebrate Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) also included many booths from local artists and community groups. There were fun crafts for kids and adults alike! Also present, were displays of traditional art, including an altar honoring the dead in the Lilly Auditorium. If you missed the event this past Saturday, don’t worry, you can still see the altar and Linocut Prints for free at the Eiteljorg Museum until November 2nd. We hope you’ll join next year at this wonderful cultural event and learn more about the traditions of Día de los Muertos.
A portion of this article was written by Steven Lane, NOPAL Cultural Artist and Writer.