A trail of orange marigold petals led Centro Cultural Hispano de San Marcos visitors, alive and deceased, to the traditional Dia de Los Muertos altar during the organization’s observance of this three-day holiday.
The color of the marigolds, referred to as the “flower of the dead,” is thought to attract spirits. The souls of children are believed to return Nov. 1, with adults to follow the next day, toward the altar’s offerings.
San Marcos resident Margie Villalpando left candles, crosses, bread, hot chocolate mix, candied pumpkin, sugar skulls and tamales among other offerings on the organization’s altar to honor family members.
Black and white photographs of Villalpando’s grandmother and mother lined the covered altar’s top tier, symbolic of the Holy Trinity.
Villalpando has included photographs in the organization’s altar for three years as a way to keep her loved ones’ memories alive. She said the process of choosing which photographs and offerings to include is still an emotional one.
Her mother worked numerous jobs, such as creating funeral wreaths out of artificial flowers at a local general store, said Villalpando. She said she remembers helping with the delicate process as a child.
“Dia de Los Muertos is a celebration of life,” she said.
Other San Marcos residents learned how to construct their own altar during the organization’s Dia de Los Muertos event, aimed at teaching the community about the centuries-old traditions of celebrating the lives of the deceased.
“It is a joyous time. It is a time of remembering,” said Gloria Salazar, Centro Cultural Hispano de San Marcos coordinator. “We celebrate this day to educate the children, and really, a lot of adults, about what the Day of the Dead is all about.”
The history of Dia de Los Muertos predates European colonialism, said Salazar, adding that in 1523 when Spanish Conquistadors arrived on what is present-day Mexico, they witnessed natives practicing rituals they initially believed mocked death.
Salazar said the indigenous peoples kept the skulls of their departed and honored them in July or August, only changing the holiday’s date to coincide with All Souls’ Day.
One of the most popular Dia de Los Muertos offerings is the sugar skull, made of a sugar mixture that has been pressed into molds, dried and decorated.
Ofelia Vasquez-Philo, Centro Cultural Hispano de San Marcos founder, said the candy skull, much like the ones decorated during the organization’s holiday event, can be inscribed with the name of the person being honored on its forehead.
Salazar said even though Dia de Los Muertos, or similar holidays, are celebrated worldwide, people participate in different ways. She remembered observing the holiday by going to a nearby family cemetery as a child to clean the area.