The 5 elaborate Altars on display at the Dairy Arts Center were created by Amistad’s Compañeras Program and community members.
Established in 2002, with the mission of “increasing the quality of life and well-being of women, providing access to educational, cultural and mutual support programs in an inclusive and safe space”.
The Compañeras Program of the Centro AMISTAD is a safe and free space, which meets weekly, where we can live and support each other, using different tools and artistic languages to strengthen our internal dialogue, in addition to cultivating our connection with our creative being.
The Altars will be on display until Saturday, November 2 for our Day of the Dead celebration from 4 to 7 p.m. The community is invited to join us for this vibrant celebration of art, music, Aztec ceremony and Mexican cuisine. Catrinas / Catrinas and Catrinitas / Catrinitos Contests, Face Painting, Art Workshop and Dance!
What is the history of Dia de Muertos?
The Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday celebrated all over the country, mostly in the Center and South. Day of the Dead celebrations are based in the belief that the souls of the ones gone can come back to this world on these days. This day focuses on building family altars to commemorate our family members that have died. Gatherings of family and friends to pray to support their spiritual journey and to remember the spirit of people we love and is no longer “with us”. It is an important tradition of this day to visit the graves of our deaths with orange Mexican marigolds. The origins of the modern Mexican holiday to indigenous observances is traced back hundreds of years to an Aztec festival dedicated to the goddess called Mictecacihuatl.
What is an Altar?
Altars make the souls (animas) feel welcomed and show them they have not been forgotten. Day of the Dead altars are set with different elements depending on the region; these differences are established by the availability, seasonal flowers and fruits and the traditional food from the area. Other elements are shared everywhere in the country. The souls will only take the essence out of the food and drinks so at the end of the celebration or in some places during the event, the family will gather and eat and drink the offered goodies and often share them with the community members. Most altars would include some or all of these elements:
Pictures of the evoked relatives is placed in the altar to make them present and revive their image.
Flowers: The altar is decorated with fresh flowers as it is believed that their scent will make the returning souls feel welcomed and happy. The cempasuchil or flor de muertos (flower of the dead) is one of the most used flowers during the celebration; in some places its petals are set to make a path from the house door to the altar thus showing the way to the returning souls.
Different Levels: In some areas altars are made with two levels that symbolize heaven and earth; in others they are made with three levels for heaven, purgatory and earth; and there are places where altars with seven levels are placed, each of these levels represents the steps a soul has to make to get to heaven.
An Arch Symbolizes the entrance to the world of the dead.
Chiseled Paper: The papel picado or chiseled paper are paper flags chiseled with saints’ figures or skulls and skeletons that are placed like a tablecloth in the altar. It represents the element air for the way they move.
Day of the Dead Bread or pan de muertos is different in every region of the country and one of the most important elements in the altar.
Candy Skulls: Sugar, chocolate or amaranth seed skulls represent the death and its every moment presence.
Candies: Alfeñique (almonds paste) fruits, donkeys, angels and skeletons and all kind of homemade candies are set to treat the children’s souls.
Food: Tamales, atole, fruits like oranges and apples and desserts like the calabaza en tacha (candied pumpkin) are also part of the offering.
Spirited Drinks: Tequila, mezcal, and pulque (fermented agave juice) are offered to the adult souls so they can relax and enjoy with their family. If the honored one smoked a pack of cigarettes is then set in the altar.
Candles: Candles show the souls their way to the altar and back to the dead world; they symbolize the light, hope, and faith.
Religious Elements: The most common are crucifixes and Virgin Mary and patron saint images.
Petate: Petates (palm tree leaf woven carpets) are set aside for the souls to lie down and rest.
Water: A glass of water is set in the altar to calm the souls’ thirst after their long journey.
Copal: The resin of the tree that has the same name is burned to purify the place and to attract the souls with its sweet smell.
Salt: A small plate with salt is set in the altar as a purifier element.
Personal Objects: In some areas the honored tools, clothing or toys are added to the offering to make him feel at home.
Ornaments: Candle holders, incense burners, papier mache or clay figurines such as skulls or skeletons doing a certain activity or animals.
What is a Catrina?
A catrina is a figure of a woman skeleton usually dressed in a nice dress with a large plumed hat. A male skeleton is called a “catrin.” These figures were created in the 20th century when a well known Mexican newspaper cartoonist named Jose Guadalupe Posada, satirized rich people implying that death wasn’t for them. In his black and white etchings, he mocked the perception that the rich could somehow avoid death. These cartoons were very popular with the masses and gradually his images, skeletons dressed up in clothing and doing things that the living do.