What is Dia de los Muertos?
View the gallery of this year’s celebration.
An altar extravagantly decorated with marigolds, sugar skulls and ornate paper cut outs sits in the conference room of the East library throughout the last days of October and into early November. Since 2001, East has observed the Mexican celebration of Dia de los Muertos, organized with the help of librarian Kathleen Knop, teachers in the Spanish department and Spanish 6 students.
The traditional Mexican holiday spans two days from Nov. 1st to 2nd, and honors the souls and lives of deceased loved ones. The festivities last well into the night in Mexico with vigils held in decorated graveyards and parades lighting up the crowded streets.
Graveyards fill with families coming to decorate headstones in colorful flowers and garnish displays for the honored loved one with food, candles and offerings. The celebration represents a common Mexican philosophy of embracing and celebrating the lives of deceased loved ones rather than grieving over them.
“I just fell in love with that celebration for the reason it is a celebration to life, and it is an occasion where you face death and you are not afraid of death,” Senora Detrixhe said. “The hispanic people believe that the soul is coming back to see them; they build the altars and make the food and have pictures related to the deceased person. The family and friends they get to together as a group and thats what I love the best, when they do something they do it together as a family.”
At East specifically, a single person is honored each year throughout the celebration. This year, Desi Arnaz was chosen. Arnaz, who was born in Cuba in 1917, and passed away in 1986 was famous for his acting career in the TV sitcom “I Love Lucy,” during the 50s. Arnaz is also well known for inventing and popularizing the “conga line” dance.
This year spanish VI students will give cultural presentations on the holiday, the significance of the altars and about the life of Arnaz as well as teach traditional Latin American dances to the spanish classes that come to views the displays.
The idea to hold a Dia de los Muertos celebration came from Knop after her friend and fellow librarian explained the Mexican holiday and told her about their own festivities held in the Blue Valley library.
That year, Knop along with the help of former Spanish teacher Senora Hunter held their own celebration. Coming just a month after 9/11 they chose to honor two local firefighters who had died combating fires here in Prairie Village.
They elaborately adorned the altar and with it placed symbols used in traditional Mexican altars including figurines, photos and decorative candles and cutouts. The families of the honored firefighters even came to view the memorial put together by the East community.
“We did a big Dia de los Muertos celebration and made an alter. Everything on the altar has significance,” Knop said. “The comb and the brush — when they come back from the dead the like to look nice, the salt because they’ve lost their sense of taste and they want things to taste better, the marigolds have a scent that draws them to the place. Everything has significance.”
According to Knop, the holiday and tradition held by East students is not only for Spanish students, but for all who enter the library to view and learn about the rich cultural practices of traditional Mexican life.
“It makes a connection to another culture,” Knop said. “Anytime we learn about other people and other cultures, I think that’s a good thing.”
Listen to a sound clip about Sra. Detrixhe
See pictures from last year’s celebration.