For the past 17 years, Flagstaff Nuestras Raíces has presented the Celebraciones de la Gente, a Day of the Dead celebration, in partnership with the Museum of Northern Arizona (MNA). This year, COVID has changed all that.
“We’ve had to rethink all our events this year, including Celebraciones de la Gente,” said MNA’s Kristan Hutchison. “In the past, the museum would be full of visitors during Celebraciones, watching dance performances, viewing the ofrendas, listening to talks and mariachi music and enjoying the beauty of the candlelit courtyard after dark.”
However, with the need for social distancing, MNA found innovative ways to bring the annual event to people who are staying home.
“This year, we had to think of ways to share the Dia de los Muertos traditions and history without bringing groups of people together. Instead of holding a weekend festival in the museum building, we are spreading the activities out across time and space, and finding ways to help people bring Celebraciones home,” said the MNA Director of Marketing.
“Nuestras Raíces means ‘our roots,’” explained Lydia Anaya, president of Flagstaff Nuestras Raíces (FNR). Anaya and her sister. Clorinda Quiroz Lozano, co-founded the Flagstaff Hispanic Pioneers to keep the Flagstaff history of their culture alive. That group was a forerunner to what is now known as Flagstaff Nuestras Raíces, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.
“The organization is trying to keep the history and culture of what our parents and grandparents taught and [Celebraciones de la Gente] is one way to do it,” said Anaya. “On Oct. 7, we’ll set the community ofrenda at the museum and explain what is on the ofrendas and why.” The virtual presentation will show how those sheltering in place can set ofrendas at home.
“When setting an ofrenda, the important thing is a picture of your loved one to remember them on All Souls Day, which is Nov. 2,” said Anaya, giving a sneak preview of the educational presentation. “We set the ofrenda with items that represent the four elements: wind, fire, water and earth.” She explained that the earth is symbolized by bread baked especially for the celebration; candles denote fire and papel picado banners fluttering in the breeze indicate wind. “We always leave water on the ofrenda for our loved ones who’ve made a long journey to come back and join us for the special occasion.”
Ofrenda 101: Decoding THE Day of the Dead
“This is an opportunity to learn more about the traditions and how you can bring them into your own home,” said MNA Public Programs Manager Amelia George. “We’re calling the presentation Ofrenda 101: Decoding Day of the Dead. You’ll learn not only what you put on them, but also why. They [Nuestras Raíces] have done tons of research and are sharing it with the community.”
“You don’t need a Facebook account to watch the Livestream,” said George. All are welcome to tune into the virtual event at facebook.com/musnaz/live_videos on Wednesday, Oct. 7, at 1 pm. The altar will stay up in the museum from Oct. 7 through Nov. 2, so that museum goers can see an ofrenda and perhaps leave a memento behind. George advises that if you plan to bring pictures of loved ones to leave on the public ofrenda, then printing images on copy paper would be best, as they will be discarded when the altar is taken down.
“We were disappointed that we had to cancel the public gathering, but we’re excited to celebrate the event, nevertheless. It’s a good time to reflect on what we’ve lost over the last year, but then also reflect on what we’ve gained,” she said.
“It takes a lot of work to prepare for setting the ofrendas,” Anaya said. “But it’s fun – we get our families together to decorate the sugar skulls and tell stories and share family memories.” This year, the plan is to set one community ofrenda instead of the numerous family altars at the museum as was customary in past Celebraciones de la Gente or ‘Celebrations of People.’
Family Friday: Dia de Los Muertos program
“Celebraciones is a favorite family event, partly because there are so many wonderful crafts for kids to do,” Hutchison said. “When the shutdown started in the spring, we began offering an online Family Friday program, specifically with activities for families to do at home. So, the Oct. 16 Family Friday program will focus on Dia de Los Muertos, and some of the crafts families can do together. We are hoping this will include sugar skulls, and Nuestras Raices, who we partner with for Celebraciones, may be able to create take-home sugar skull kits so that kids can do that at home too.” To join this virtual event, go to facebook.com/musnaz/live_videos at 2:30 p.m., Friday, Oct. 16.
A second ofrenda will be set in the garden space at Colton Community Garden using items harvested from the MNA patch on Tuesday, Oct. 20. The community garden is open to the public, and people may come in and leave offerings until All Saints Day on Nov. 2.
“There’s no way to fully recreate the camaraderie we feel when we come together celebrating the lives we are living and the lives we have lost, but sharing these longstanding traditions of grief and remembrance may help during this time when we are all experiencing so much loss,” said Hutchison. FBN
By Stacey Wittig, FBN
For more about Dia de los Muertos, visit Stacey Wittig’s blog at unstoppablestaceytravel.com/what-is-the-difference-between-day-of-the-dead-and-halloween