Day of the Dead celebrates life

Day of the Dead takes away the fear of death with humor. Skeletons are depicted getting married, playing instruments and enjoying themselves.
MPR Photo/Roseanne Pereira

Enter Centro, a social service agency for the Latino community in Minneapolis, and you'll see a commemoration for Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead.

The exhibit is whimsical and bursting with color - aqua walls, bright yellow flowers and red and purple paper cover the room. The idea is to diffuse the fear of death.

Around the room, skeleton figurines act out scenes from everyday life. Some play guitars, a pair of skeletons celebrates their wedding and one skeleton even prays alone before an altar.

Marlon Ferrey
Marlon Ferrey is Centro's arts and cultural director. He stands in front of the altar he made for Day of the Dead.
MPR Photo/Roseanne Pereira

Centro's cultural and arts program director, Marlon Ferrey, says the day is not supposed to be somber. "Day of the dead has been a way -- especially in Mexico -- is a way to celebrate not so much I think death, but the souls of our loved ones, " says Ferrey.

In some parts of Mexico, people visit cemeteries and have festive picnics full of the favorite foods of those who died.

"So, if grandma loved sweet bread, you bring sweet bread. If grandpa loved tequila, you bring tequila. Whatever they loved," he says.

Ferrey says people also build altars in their homes with photographs, foods and other mementos. A few locally built altars are on display at Centro. One altar is for senior citizens who died and includes games they played.

"Bingo was so important to the seniors' lives. We can't even imagine doing an altar without the bingo and the dominoes," says Ferrey.

One popular altar at Centro commemorates pets. Visitors often add the names of their own deceased pets.

The altars include objects treasured during life. Bingo cards and dominoes are included in an altar for senior citizens.
MPR Photo/Roseanne Pereira

For Ferrey, the altar tradition is new. He says Day of the Dead mainly meant bringing flowers to the graves in his native Nicaragua,. This year, he built an altar of his own. It includes mementos of his father who was a comedian and writer. He placed his father's typewriter and glasses on the altar.

"It's almost to say that death is not strong enough to separate us. That's the whole point of sharing the food and the drink with that person. We feel them still; they're close to us and death is just a little inconvenience in between," Ferrey says.

The altars will be on display at Centro in Minneapolis through Nov. 2.

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