Cleveland Public Theatre celebrates 15th annual Day of the Dead

There’s Halloween, and then there’s Día de los Muertos, also known as the Day of the Dead.

Family and friends gather to celebrate the lives of their loved ones during Day of the Dead, rather than celebrating Halloween’s cheap scares and monsters under the bed.

There is often confusion that the Day of the Dead is a “Mexican Halloween,” but a simple Google search and an attendance to a Day of the Dead event would quickly enlighten the confused.

During Halloween, we fear the unexpected alongside ghouls, ghosts and goblins. In contrast, the Day of the Dead parades such fears, no pun intended — like skeletons dancing with those from beyond the grave with colorful intricate designs and lively mariachi music.

The Cleveland Public Theatre celebrated its 15th annual Día de Muertos festival this year, Nov. 2. The Day of the Dead festival is a week long, with most celebrations occurring on the last day. Kent State’s Spanish And Latino Student Association (S.A.L.S.A.) celebrated the Day of the Dead on Oct. 8, during Hispanic Heritage Month.

The festival included the necessities for an authentic Day of the Dead. These activities included erecting altars for loved ones, making sugar skulls, mariachi music and a Day of the Dead parade.

Attendees wrote to their deceased via an altar titled “Escribe tu Muertos,” which when translated means, “write your dead.” One of the writers to the dead would be Sad Wolfkitten.

“I have been coming to this event for seven years now,” Wolfkitten said.

Wolfkitten explained that this year’s Day of the Dead festival meant more to her as she recently lost her father, whom she grew up with in Kent. 

Families and friends were invited to bring mementos that represent the deceased when they were alive to one of eight designated altars. Those celebrating and in mourning lit candles and brought these mementos to the altar of their choosing. Seven of these altars were for specific people who had lost their lives, with the eighth being a community altar for all the dead.

The various mementos included things like candy, books, fruit and cigarettes.

Halloween began its roots in Celtic regions around 2,000 years ago. The original idea of Halloween was to mark the introduction of a cold harsh winter and the end of a plentiful harvest. Halloween initially started as a holiday for bracing for the season.

Halloween has transitioned from bracing yourself for the toughest times to making a mockery of the Christian devil. From there, Halloween became an event for tricks and treats. With this information acknowledged, we can also acknowledge that the Day of the Dead and Halloween are not deviations of one another.

The Day of the Dead began in what is now Mexico as an Aztec tradition, in which they would honor their dead. Transformation occurred to the original Day of the Dead with the introduction of Catholicism. With this transformation, we recognize the Mexican holiday that we know today. Lively music, dancing and extravagant festivities are required as not to insult the dead by the sadness of their death.

The Day of the Dead is a celebration of life and death rather than a mark for preparation of the inevitable grim that lies ahead.

Some paid tribute to the Day of the Dead festival by participating in the parade, including Sheryl Smith.

“It’s a beautiful tradition,” Smith said. Smith is a decade-long celebrator of the Day of the Dead. Smith attended the event with her daughter-in-law. Both wore the sugar skull face makeup along with their suits which were painted with bones to make them look like complete skeletons.

First time attendees gathered with Day of the Dead veterans to cherish the time they did get to spend with their loved ones and enjoy the festivities.

Some of the parade’s sugar skulls came in the form of giant papier-mâché helmets. One of the papier-mâché helmet wielders was Michael Banks.

“This is my first time celebrating and being in the parade,” Banks said.

Different origins with conflicting interpretations of life and death separate these two major holidays from each other.

“I celebrate both,” said festival-goer Julia Krasnow, referring to Halloween and the Day of the Dead. “I always trick-or-treated as a kid, but now I give out candy to kids on Halloween and come to the Day of the Dead parade.”

Contact Terry Lee III at [email protected].