Lea esta historia en español aquí.
Death is a part of life, and should be celebrated. This is how the importance of Day of the Dead is described per a Mexican definition. UNESCO in 2003 proclaimed the holiday, celebrated on Nov. 1 and 2, an intangible cultural heritage of humanity.
From a festival dedicated to sharing the first fruit of the year’s corn crop with ancestors, per prehispanic communities practice, to the “transitory return to Earth of deceased relatives and loved ones,” per UNESCO, the meaning of this celebration runs wide and deep.
For Longmont, Day of the Dead is the inspiration for a 20-plus-year community celebration rooted in cultural respect and authenticity. The local observance — and collection of events tied to it — each year attracts more than 8,000 spectators, making it the largest such celebration in the state, according to the city.
And while the coronavirus pandemic has changed the celebration, it has not stalled local enthusiasm for the tradition.
This year’s festivities will kick off Thursday with the virtual opening reception featuring Aztec dancers, an artist talk, and conversations with community leaders on the history of gallery art and the event.
Events will continue throughout October and culminate with a virtual celebration on Nov. 1.
“This year is the 20th anniversary of the Longmont Museum celebrating the Day of the Dead with the community so it’s a special year. It’s really a bummer that there’s a pandemic … but we still got to do a number of things to really celebrate,” said Ann Macca, the museum’s curator of education.
“(The celebration) started out as a partnership program between the museum and El Comite, and it has just grown and grown and grown. It’s helped us build really fruitful community partnerships with Casa Esperanza, with the Firehouse Art Center ... with the Downtown Development Authority. … We’re working with the city of Longmont sustainability program now, as well and really trying to engage Latino businesses in town. It’s been awesome to see it grow and bring people together.”
Here is a rundown of ways to join in the celebration:
The Longmont Museum will livestream a number of events throughout the next month. They will include:
Oct. 4 — 2:30 to 4 p.m. Virtual local talent showcase with live music and dance performances.
Nov. 1 — 2:30 to 4 p.m. Virtual Day of the Dead celebration with local performers including singing Mexican trio, Las Dahlias; Grupo Folklorico Mexico Lindo dance, mariachi, poetry by bicultural community leader Laura Soto and more.
“Traditionally, in a COVID-free world, we would be hosting Dia de los Muertos in downtown, with traditional dancers and processions to celebrate the holiday so we are just adapting that as best as we can (this year),” said Mersadi McClure, creative district coordinator for the Longmont Downtown Development Authority.
New thematic content is being posted weekly on the Longmont Day of the Dead website, including its history and information on altars, crafts, traditional food and drinks.
While COVID-19 has restricted the breadth of events this year, there still are opportunities to take part in person.
Every year, the museum invites community members to create and set up altars, or ofrendas. Following social distancing requirements, the public can visit the museum Oct. 2 through Jan. 9 to see the works of art and remembrance, according to Macca.
The museum gallery also will feature an exhibit by internationally recognized Colorado artist and Regis University professor, Tony Ortega, including book illustrations and a family ofrenda.
“The exhibit itself is mainly three children’s books, bilingual books that I illustrated … In one of them (a boy and two dogs) discover the real meaning of day of the muertos. They go to a pantheon in the evening and see the tombs and mee people there,” Ortega said.
The Firehouse Art Center also will showcase art of historical significance in an exhibit featuring the works of multiple Latinx artists that include “meticulously crafted altars … chronicling the relationship between faith, family, history and culture,” according to the Day of the Dead website.
“This year we really wanted to make sure that we were really representing Latino artists. … We really wanted to make sure we were listening to Latino voices and highlighting them and wanted to make sure that it was something that spoke to the history and the culture of Latino people here in the community,” said Elaine Waterman, Firehouse Art Center executive director.
To get tickets for the exhibit, click here.
A Day of the Dead invocation from 6 to 10 p.m. Oct. 9 at Roosevelt Park will kick off the Firehouse Art Center exhibit. The event will feature Aztec dancers leading a procession of giant puppets crafted by local artists through downtown to the Firehouse. There, ticketed participants can meet the artists, bid on Catrina paintings and enjoy the gallery.
The calavera Catrina, an icon of Mexican Day of the Death, has inspired for the past seven years a community event in which people can come together to paint their interpretations of the Catrina to be auctioned off at the Firehouse exhibit opening, according to Waterman.
“It is one of my favorite celebrations and holidays and we really wanted to hold on to something that we could do for the community that was in person. We took what we usually did and just made it a little bit smaller so that it would fall within the recommendations for outdoor large event gatherings as well as doing the timed tickets for here inside the gallery,” Waterman said.
Because of COVID-19, experiences have been packaged for people of all ages to participate at their own pace.
For a fee, the museum will offer families the opportunity to register for an Oct. 29 do-it-yourself program to learn the history and significance of the skull, marigold and monarch butterfly in relation to the holiday and paint colorful rocks that can be added to family altars. To register for the event, click here.
Ortega also was commissioned to lead the creation of a community mural that will be installed Friday in the downtown breezeway between Fourth and Fifth avenues on the west side of Main Street, Macca said.
“In conjunction with the 20th anniversary celebration (the museum) asked me to do a community mural. … In the backdrop there are the two big peaks, (Longs Peak and Mount Meeker), in the Front Range, there’s elements from past celebrations, folklorico dancers and singers from past events, also tombs from (cemeteries) in Mexico. I bring elements from Mexico and elements from Longmont,” Ortega said.
Community members can view the mural as part of a self-guided tour of altars at downtown businesses starting Oct. 9.
“Something else really fun we traditionally do is have different ofrendas and altars out (installed) by different businesses along downtown. Typically, we have guided tours but will not have that this year (due to COVID), but we will have maps at businesses for people to grab. … It'll be interesting to see how it will (all) translate this year but it's always a great time,” McClure said.For more information on all the planned events for the Day of the Dead celebration, click here.