This year, being busy Halloween weekend, I wanted to check out Phoenix’s Dia De Los Muertos Festival. It’s part of my cultural heritage that I never really did much with growing up nor as an adult up until this point and I wanted to change that. From the description of the festival on their website, it sounded super inclusive, so I decided to check out the final moments of the festival.
One thing you can’t avoid are las flacas (las calacas flacas), or “the thins (thin skeletons),” which are large skeletons that wander around the festival looking for people to dance with. There was also a Frida Khalo one here in Phoenix but I didn’t get to see her in action too much. The children would hide behind the flacas’ backs and pull on its clothes to play tricks on it. Aside from the skeletons, there were skulls everywhere: people with faces painted in traditional skull patterns, sugar skulls dripping sweetly in the hot autumn sun, and skulls on rods in a circle around the performance area to mark the stage. I read online that la llorona, or the weeping woman, was to make an appearance, but I did not see her for the few hours I was there. Another time, perhaps!
They also had a community shrine (ofrenda) where people could place pictures of their departed loved ones and leave an offering or farewell message. I left two: One for my grandfather and one for my grandmother. At the end of the evening, before the processional, the festival’s host burned the messages to send them to our loved ones beyond the grave. It was nice to be able to be a part of that.
Before the processional, the host told us a bit about the festival: Its Aztec name is Quecholli, and the shape of modern Mexico’s Dia De Los Muertos is taken from this festival (much like how Halloween borrows heavily from the Pagan Samhain festival). He said that he didn’t want Phoenix’s Day of the Dead festival to become another corporate beer garden. I looked around as he pointed out that there were no corporate sponsors, no beer or liquor sellers, only local restaurants, artisans, musicians, and community members. I liked that he wants to keep the spirit of the festival in its roots: A way for all of us to reconnect with those who have passed and be reminded of the cycle of life. Then began the processional, led by the feathered serpent Quetzalcoatl, where dancers, drummers, las flacas, and masked men and women paraded around the park to close the celebration.
What about you all? Does your community have a Day of the Dead celebration or a holiday/festival that honors the dead? Let me know about it in the comments below!