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By Nancy Hahn

The 40 West Art District will hold a huge event celebrating many elements of Diá de los Muertos or Day of the Dead from 6 to 10 p.m. on First Friday, Nov. 2. Pirate: Contemporary Art, at 7130 W. 16th Ave., brought this celebration to the 40 West Art District last year and there will be fun for everyone.

So, what is Día de los Muertos? Is it like Halloween? Both Halloween and Día de los Muertos began as festivals during the fall, when the harvest provided plentiful food for celebrating.

Diá de los Muertos is celebrated in Mexico and many other Hispanic countries and usually takes place Oct. 31, Nov. 1 and Nov. 2. Halloween, with its pagan roots, began as a night that the spirits of the dead rose up to walk with the living. On the night of Oct. 31, people left food and treats outside their doors for the spirits. With luck the spirits would enjoy the food and the home would be left alone. Carved vegetables lit with embers from the fire were used to frighten the spirits away.

In contrast, Día de los Muertos celebrates memories of loved ones who have died. Scholars believe the holiday began 3,000 years ago with Aztec traditions honoring the dead. When the Spanish arrived in Mexico in the 1500s, they tried to abolish the holiday. Instead the holiday gradually changed to a celebration blended with Christianity.

Families today often spend Día de los Muertos visiting the graves of family members. The family prays to encourage the loved one on their journey. They often build altars, called ‘ofrendas’, decorated with favorite foods of the loved one and with marigolds. Orange and yellow marigolds symbolize a light to guide the loved one back to visit their loved ones. Candles are, also, lit to provide a guide.

Almost every decoration has a symbolic meaning. Dogs are often part of the decorations to help guide the spirits to their place in the afterlife. Skulls and skeletons symbolize both birth and death. Delicate cuttings of tissue paper may be added to show how fragile life can be. White decorations symbolize hope, while purple ones show sorrow.

Families may picnic at the grave, tell stories, share memories, light a candle, and bring treats to leave at the grave. While they often bring the favorite food of the loved ones, fancy decorated sugar skulls are special treats associated with Día de los Muertos.

40 West Art District’s First Friday Día de los Muertos celebration on Nov. 2 will include many of the elements of a traditional celebration and much more! Traditionally dressed Aztec dancers will remind the audience of the celebration’s ancient Aztec origins. There will also be fire artists creating amazing, large shadow and light displays with spinning fire.

All the creative businesses and art galleries in the 40 West Art District will be open and celebrating from 5 to 9 p.m. Check out all the unique work at each of them. Live music, special vendors and food trucks add to the fun for everyone. Beer and wine will be available.

Local school children have built altars to be on display during the celebration. The children created other work to be on display, also. For children visiting the event there will be special fun. Artists will be offering Día de los Muertos face painting. Piñatas will add to the fun for children, too.

With tasty food, fun, a great variety of fine art, and fire artists, this is a First Friday you won’t want to miss.