Dia de los Muertos celebration held at Visalia cemetery

The Tulare County League of Mexican American Women celebrate Dia de los Muertos with interactive workshops, celebration at the Visalia Public Cemetery

TULARE – The Tulare County League of Mexican American Women prepare for the day of the dead by offering several workshops for the first time since the pandemic. 

For the first time since 2019, the Tulare County League of Mexican American Women (TCLMAW) will be celebrating Dia de los Muertos at their 11th anniversary celebration of Life. The league will be hosting workshops in preparation for the day of the dead, every Saturday in October. Dia de los Muertos traditionally takes place in a cemetery to welcome loved ones back from the land of the dead. Individuals create altars and place offerings for those who have died. 

“Everybody is welcome [to the celebration],” Elena Nava, TCLMAW president said. “This is not something that you have to know about, but it’s something that if you go with an open mind, you can definitely learn the traditions, and we welcome everybody to do that.”

On Oct. 29, the TCLMAW will be celebrating the day of the dead with a family friendly event at the Visalia Public Cemetery from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The TCLMAW is one of the few who host their celebration in a cemetery.  Each week leading up to the celebration, community members are invited to participate in workshops to become educated about the history and traditions of the ancient welcoming of departed loved ones. There is a lot involved with the tradition that is celebrated throughout Central America and Mexico.

An early bird special of $65 for all four workshops is available until September 25th, after that it will be $20 for each individual workshop. Workshops open to participants 14 years of age and older and all supplies are included. Spaces can be purchased at their website.

To begin the festivities, a sugar skull decorating workshop starts on Oct. 1, followed by a flower crown creating workshop on Oct. 8. On Oct. 15, participants can participate in creating a Nicho shadow box for a loved one. The nicho box has a photo amongst other items to honor a loved one that can be placed on their altar, according to Nava. 

On Oct. 22, Lety Valencia also known as La Catrina de Visalia will present a verbal history of Dia de los Muertos and explain ways to create an altar at home and the meaning behind the items placed on the ofrenda. The Catrina is said to be the one who escorts individuals to the land of the dead, and the flower crown has become a more modern way of representing the catrina according to Nava.

Nava said there are different traditions, but typically the tradition calls for an altar with offerings for a lost loved one. Usually each altar hosts an arch to serve as an entry way to welcome loved ones home. The altar also hosts items that represent each element –water, fire and wind. Each altar should include water, candles, one for each direction to allow for navigation,  as well as what are called papel picado–tissue paper cut into little designs– to represent the wind. In addition, copel is also burned which is a type of sap. In addition to the must have items being placed on the altar, personal items are also included. 

Individuals are welcome to have their own altars in their homes, or else they can participate in the community altar that will be hosted at the event. Community members are asked to bring copies of photos for the altar if they wish to participate. 

An Aztec blessing will kick off the day on the 29th. The remainder of the day will include the community altar, free activities for kids, food trucks, artisan vendors, folklorico dancers, along with an appearance from La Catrina and a mariachi to end the day. The Central California Blood Center will have their blood mobile setup from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and the first 30 attendees to donate blood, will receive a free Dia de los Muertos shirt.

According to TCLMAW, the event would have been possible without the help of their sponsors, including Kaweah Health, Family HealthCare, Proteus Inc., Eagle Mountain Casino and the Visalia Public Cemetery. 

The Dia de los Muertos celebration is not to be confused with a “Mexican Halloween.” Some additional traditions include the symbol of Monarch butterflies. According to Nava, they represent the souls being brought back from the land of the dead. The same goes for marigold season. When the flower is in bloom, the dead can follow the scent of the marigolds and find their way home. 

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