Sugar Skulls: El Dia de los Muertos in Mesa

Clickclick. Clickclick. Loud music pumps into the air as stilt-walkers with their faces painted to look like friendly skulls and dressed in traditional Mexican clothing noisily make their way down a pathway filled with adults and children.

Tables with bright plastic table clothes are lined with bracelets made from skull beads, ghoulish masks and wood panels painted to depict scenes from long ago. A little boy eyes the skeleton figures that look like morbid action figures.

Every year the Mesa Arts Center hosts a free El Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, festival in late October. This festival is both informative and entertaining, appealing to children and adults.

Diana Hollinshead came to the festival with her granddaughter. She heard about the festival through a friend and thought it sounded like a fun weekend activity.

“I’ve really enjoyed my time here,” Hollinshead said. “I didn’t know much about the Day of the Dead before but this has been really interesting.”

Dr. Carmen King de Ramirez, Clinical Assistant Professor of Spanish at ASU, believes that despite Day of the Dead celebrations recently becoming more popular in the United States, many still don’t fully understand the meaning behind the holiday.

“I believe that we have a long way to go in educating the public about the symbolism of the Day of the Dead as a holiday that celebrates death as natural part of the life cycle that should be embraced and not feared,” Ramirez said.

Instead of the Day of the Dead being a dark and scary holiday, Ramirez said that it is a joyful celebration of the earthly lives of loved ones who are now dead.

The roots of this holiday can be found in a mixture of traditions from indigenous Mexican and European cultures.

“Mexican people have fused together the religious aspect of the holiday and folkloric traditions by celebrating the day with festivals, parades, dances and music,” Ramirez said.

Festivals such as the one hosted at the Mesa Arts Center are a way to share the rich cultural traditions of Mexico.

Rhona Jenkins and Denise Peterson volunteered their time to make sure the festival operated smoothly.

“I’ve been doing this for a few years,” Peterson said. “It’s a nice way to help the community.”

Since the festival has had previous success there isn’t difficulty finding people to help, Jenkins said.

“We show up in the morning and are put where there’s need,” Jenkins said.

Some volunteers sit at tables and answer questions, some pick up garbage, and much more.

The festival offers many different attractions, but apparently there is a favorite.

“The sugar skull decorating booth,” Peterson said, and Jenkins nodded and smiled.

It must be true: nearly every group of visitors walking around the festival had at least one decorated sugar skull, held carefully in a paper box, in their possession and along with it new found knowledge about El Dia de los Muertos.

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