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Dia de los Muertos a Day to Remember and Honor
Thursday, November 2, 2023


One altar featured prints made by Wood River Valley community members of skulls decorated with glitter and sequins. It was inspired by the skull racks that pre-Columbian Aztecs made featuring skulls of war captives to denote their power and military success.

Another honored Maria Elena Moyeno, an activist who provided milk and food to impoverished people before she was assassinated by the Shining Path.

Still others honored deceased family members.

Individuals and community organizations like The Advocates and The Community Library came together this past month to celebrate Dia de los Muertos by building traditional altars, watching traditional dances, listen to  a mariachi band and enjoy Mexican food served up by Manos Unidos, which was raising money for medical needs in the community.

This is the fourth year the Sun Valley Museum of Art has organized a Dia de los Muertos event. Staffers  conceived of the celebration during the pandemic as a way to bring the community together, teaching non-Hispanics about a celebration that is very important to the Mexican culture.

“We’re all learning,” said one.

Dia de los Muertos is not about warding off evil spirits as is Halloween. Instead, it’s a day to honor those who have died and keep their memory alive

The two-day observance takes place Nov. 1 and 2. It’s believed that St. Peter gives permission for souls to leave heaven and visit living relatives. Consequently, many of the altars feature arches representing the departure and return to heaven.

Those on earth celebrate with a party, eating a sweet bread called pan de muerto and sharing stories of loved ones to keep their memory alive. Some paint their faces to resemble skulls and women sometimes dress up as La Catrina, a female skeleton in a fancy gown and hat.

La Catrina, which means “elegant skull,” was actually created by cartoonist Jose Guadalupe Posada in the early 20th century to mock those vaunting their political or social status but has become an important part of Dia de los Muertos. Underneath it all, he said, humans are all the same—a bundle of bones—no matter how much wealth or power they have.

Altars or ofrendas feature photos of loved ones. Orange marigold petals, referred to as flowers of the dead, and candles are used to guide the spirits back home with their scent and their light. Tiny sugar skulls represent the sweetness of life. And playing cards, favorite books and other mementos that belonged to the deceased are placed on their altar.

Dia de los Muertos is believed to have originated with the Aztecs. It evolved with the Spanish, who introduced their All Sants’ Day and All Souls’ Day of Catholicism into the equation.

Though associated primarily with Mexico, the celebration has made small inroads into countries like Peru, Guatemala, Nicaragua and even the United States, sometimes taking slightly different forms.


Mexicans living in the state of Michoacan believe that the black and orange monarch butterflies return from the United States and Canada to their wintering grounds in Sierra Chincua, El Rosario and Cerro Pelon on All Saints and All Souls days with the returning of the souls of the dead.

Trackers count not the number of individual butterflies but rather the number of acres they cover when they clump together. The butterflies, which have been categorized as endangered, will migrate north in March. Their migration is the longest of any insect species known to science.

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