Written by Maria Ordonez Photos by Alexandra Alcaraz, Roger Alix, Bayan Saib
Aztec Dancers at Dia de Los Muertos in Los Angeles
The sun is setting, there is darkness approaching. Walking by the graves, you read each name, each one more unfamiliar than the last, each one shocking as you imagine the lives they had. Voices begin to get louder as the cold breeze flows through the trees. Before you know it you realize you are not alone.
The drums begin pounding, children’s laughter fills the air, Mexican tribal dancers are twirling. You smile at a skeleton tipping his hat to you. Votive candles are being lit, the smell of Marigolds fill the air...You become lost in a crowd of thousands all here for the same reason. To remember our loved ones that have passed away. Dia de los Muertosis held at Hollywood Forever Cemetery annually bringing to life Mexico’s traditional holiday that focuses on reuniting and honoring beloved ancestors, family and friends.
A tradition that has lasted many lifetimes...
Dia de los Muertos is an ancient ritual where the dead roam the Earth with the living. A night where the veil is lifted between the two worlds so that our ancestors can find their way back to us once again. Dating back to Meso American times when the indigenous people roamed the Earth, specifically the people of Nahua (Aztecs, Mayans, Toltecas, Tlaxcaltec, Chichimec, Tecpanec), Dia de Los Muertos is timeless holiday tradition. Altar making, offerings, burnings of incense, and scattered marigolds are all part of this holiday that honors family that is living and family that you have invited back from the dead to enjoy these offerings alongside you.
Author with Creative Director/Co-Founder Celine Mares at Press Event
Who knew a cemetery would be so filled with life? Every year at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, the graveyard comes to life. I was able to attend as press to the celebration and the press day. In both instances, I was met with a warm welcome from everyone who organized the event.
I had the honor of sitting down with the Creative Director/Co-Founder, Celine Mares, to talk about the history, the importance, and the future of the festival. She opened my eyes to a whole new community. A community that is ready to welcome the next generation in with open arms.
Celine Mares emphases that what she hopes to bring to the future of their event is more awareness. She believes that we must invite people with open arms so that they realize this is not a scary Halloween event but, a celebration of life, and life after death. She wishes to welcome people that come in with open minds so that the future is filled with peace, love, and acceptance. A big part of honoring our traditions is keeping them alive and the Hollywood Forever Dia De los MuertosFestival has done just that. Having hosted this festival for 18 years, they have grown from just 40 guests to about 40,000 and more each year.
“Just remember this isn’t Halloween, nothing is supposed to be scary, and this celebration is just about love.” - Celine Morales
"Our family in Oaxaca is celebrating today too and just to think that we can both be celebrating at the same time is the best part." - Oscar (Guest)
This festival is not only for those who have grown up with this tradition embedded in them, it is for everyone. Everyone who wants to learn, who is grieving for a lost loved one, or for those that just want to celebrate life, and life after death. Many guests make it a family tradition to come year after year. Guests like Oscar, a man I met there, who comes to Hollywood Forever Cemetery to celebrate on the same day as his family in Oaxaca, Mexico even though they are miles away from each other. I watched older guests remembering how their sons were as young boys, and I saw young children learning about their past. All walks of life (living and dead) can enjoy this festival and immerse themselves in this beautiful tradition.
The constantly growing enormity of this festival presents more opportunity for awareness, which now spans from local neighborhoods to pop culture. Companies displayed altars for their brands such as Netflix's altar to Barb from Stranger Things and Ford's altars to cars. It doesn't stop at popular media though, altars of all kinds were made in honor of political movements too. From towering rainbow "IMPEACHMENT" letters, to messages of acceptance of all races, and to altars accepting money for the Puerto Rican relief fund.
While I may not fully understand why big companies like Netflix and Ford needed to have their Dia De Los Muertos “plug in”, I do know that pop culture is at the focus of everyone’s attention. While the funded altars were gorgeous they pulled the audience back into the real world. If pop culture raises awareness for this holiday, as uncomfortable as it is for some, at least we have a path to move forward with passing these traditions on to the next generation.
If you’re still unsure about partying in the graveyard all day/night, Celine Morales has some advice: “Just remember this isn’t Halloween, nothing is supposed to be scary, and this celebration is just about love.” I hope that with more awareness, this tradition can lead to a world full of peace, acceptance, and love.
"It is important that we keep our traditions alive, especially for the next generation."