Event celebrates the lives of the dead

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The Spanish Club and SGA are hosting a Day of the Dead celebration on Nov. 1 at 5:30 pm in the Remington Atrium.

Students who attend the celebration may try traditional foods, hear a short presentation about the history of the celebration and participate in activities.

Dr. Ana Bausset-Page, Assistant Professor of Spanish, started the Day of the Dead celebration at Western in 2011.  She said she wants students to understand the differences between the Day of the Dead and Halloween.

Día de los Muertos is a two-day tradition mostly celebrated in central and south American countries, like Mexico and Bolivia.  The more indigenous the population of a country, the more they celebrate the dead.

Originally the indigenous Aztec tribes celebrated Día de los Muertos for two months. The Spanish Catholic Church then blended its traditions with the native tribes to produce the modern celebration.

Bausset-Page said she believes we should not hide from death because death is part of life.

“We should remember it in a happy way, instead of a sad way,” Bausset-Page said.  “So we eat cookies that are in the shape of skulls, but they are sweet.”

Each year the Spanish Club adds more decorations and activities, like creatively coloring happy skulls and designing unique, fun costumes for skeletons.

Catrina is a popular Day of the Dead character.  Artists often represent her as a smiling skeleton dressed in vibrant, feminine clothes and a large flashy hat.

Individual altars hold pictures of deceased loved ones.  Each altar includes an article special to that person and religious motifs like candles, crosses and pictures of saint.  Marigolds line the path to the altar and keep away bad spirits.

This year, Bausset-Page will set up an altar to her grandmother.  Maria de Loyola is lovingly remembered as abuela Pepa. 

“We basically remember those who have passed.  It’s a day when the dead can come back, and we can communicate with them,” Bausset-Page said.  “We are celebrating the life of the dead.”

When celebrating the dead, people eat the bread of the dead, pan de muertos.  The key ingredients to the sweet bread are orange peel and pink-colored sugar. 

Dr. Miguel Rivera Taupier, Assistant Professor of Spanish, is from Lima, Peru.  He said that People celebrate Halloween in the big cities and Day of the Dead in the country. 

In cemeteries, people gather for a party with musical instruments, food and alcoholic beverages.

“It’s not a personal experience,” Rivera said.  “It’s more of a communal experience.”  He said this is the main cultural difference from what he sees when American families more soberly congregate in cemeteries.

“I’m really glad to see that both celebrations can co-exist,” Rivera said.

Rivera includes Día de los Muertos in his lesson plans and encourages students to participate in the celebration by bringing in bread, fruit or flowers.

“But the most important element is a picture of a loved one,” Rivera said.

April Buntin, Spanish Club President, said when she was little, she was really close to her grandma and would make an altar to remember her.

“You can look at it in your books and you can hear the teachers tell you about it,” Buntin said.  “But, when you can come and participate in the celebration, I think that really cements the concepts in your mind.”

“It kind of fascinates me because you would think that the sensation with the skulls and skeletons would make it kind of creepy,” Buntin said.  “But they’re actually so humorous looking that it’s a lot of fun.”

Buntin said she hopes the Day of the Dead celebration at Western expands to more student participation and the Hispanic community of St. Joseph.

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