Viva el Dia de los Muertos! In LA, the Mexican Day of the Dead festival is celebrated with a large cultural event each year in Hollywood Forever Cemetery. The tombs and graves of the rich and famous are interspersed with altars draped with colour-drenched floral garlands, evocative framed portraits and creative flourishes with little battery operated candles and fairy lights twinkling into the night.
I was first introduced to the tradition when I saw an exhibit in London’s Museum of Mankind, displaying altars with ofrendas (offerings) and explaining the significance of elements as as
* Earth is represented by the crop: The soul is fed by the various earthly aromas. Placing fruit or favorite family dishes on the altar provides nourishment for the beloved souls.
* Wind is represented by a moving object: Paper- Mache is commonly utilized to represent the echoes of the wind.
* Water is placed in a container for the soul to quench its thirst after the long awaited journey to the altar. Water is also used for the means of purification.
* Fire is represented by a wax candle: Each lit candle represents a loving soul, and an extra one is placed for the forgotten soul.
* Copal – Incense burned to commemorate Pre-Columbian history.
* The Cempasuchitl-Marigold known as “The flower of the dead” blossoms in the valleys of Mexico during the months of October and November with a bright yellow color and is central to altar decorating. This flower aids the spirits to wander back.
* Pictures are widely used in honor of the individual you are paying homage to.
* The Skull – The common symbol of the holiday is the skull which is celebrated and represented by decorative masks called calacas. In addition sugar skulls are also tastefully created and inscribed with the names of both the honored and living recipients on the forehead as a means to remind us of our own mortality.
In Hollywood Forever, community altars are constructed and awarded prizes, aside from family altars, this year some displays were constructed to honour famous figures such as Bela Lugosi or artists like Frida Kahlo. Everyone participating, and many visitors dress in Mexican, often vintage-inspired attire and paints their faces in intricate patterns with darkened skull-like eye sockets.
We got into the spirit of the occasion as I brought my family over to join in, With a pineapple cocktail in one hand, I painted our faces, and our costumes also served the Halloween party we were attending that night. I carried some dead flowers in a bouquet, and donned a veil to become the familiar Calaca Bride character, with glitter, face paint and a vivid coloured wig.
The event included a parade, dance and music performances on a decorated stage, and stalls selling traditional crafts such as sugar skulls, glittery ceramic skeleton figures and painted skulls, and variations on the theme from hair slides, to handbags and paintings. Delicious food stalls were dotted around, the scents mingling with the wafting incense.
On this night the belief is that the ‘veil’ is lifted between the realms of the living and the dead – it is easy to imagine the entombed stars of yesteryear revelling again, celebrating into the night under the palm trees, in view of the Hollywood sign.
Photos featuring me (in the orange wig!) were taken by Chris Cunningham