The Mexican tradition is honored and celebrated at one of the oldest graveyards in Los Angeles.
The 12th annual Dia de Los Muertos was held at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles’s oldest memorial park on October 22, 2011, where hundreds of people came to honor and celebrate departed souls in an ancient Mexican spiritual celebration that included ceremonial tributes and fascinating artistic altar creations all on the grounds of this famous cemetery.
Festivities included performances by Astrid Hadad, a cabaret diva, actress, singer and creative artist; Ruben Albarran (lead singer of Cafe Tacuba) performing with Hoppo, an ensemble accompanied by sitar and guitar player from Chile, and violinist from New York; and the Masanga Marimba Ensemble. In addition, there were dance performances throughout the cemetery, ranging from scared Aztec tribal rituals to ultra-contemporary ballet.
The heart of the event was the meticulously crafted altars and spiritual shrines. These private tributes and offerings provide a link between ancestors and modern customs, and chronicle the perpetual relationship between faith, family and history.
Dia De Los Muertos is one of Mexico’s traditional holidays reuniting and honoring beloved ancestors, family and friends. It is an ancient and enduring ritual when the living commune with the dead in a mystical night when the veil is lifted between their two realms so they may share the day and the night together.
The historical roots of this celebration date back to the pre-Hispanic cultures of Meso-America of the indigenous people, especially the Nahua (Aztecs, Mayans, Toltecas, Tlaxcaltec, Chichimec, Tecpanec) and others native to Mexico for more than 3,000 years. When the Spaniards conquered the country, this indigenous custom was rooted so deeply that even after five centuries of colonization, it continues to survive and be celebrated.
According to the custom, death holds no terror. It is not fearful experience, but rather as much a part of the human experience as life itself. Dia De Los Muertos is not a mournful commemoration but a happy and colorful celebration where Death takes a lively, friendly role. There is no place for sorrow or weeping as that would be seen as discourteous to the dead relatives who are present to enjoy the day.
It’s also a time when family members share memorable stories that evoke the lives of their ancestors . Offerings and altars are created to welcome and commemorate the dead. Marigolds and incense are offered in abundance because it is believed their aromatic scents guide the dead to the place where the feast is being held. A profusion of candles dispels the darkness just as the souls are being illuminated from the shadows of death.
Altars often include photos, mementos, fruit, bread, and other favorite things that the ancestors enjoyed when they were living. The altars also provide the opportunity to talk to children about those who came before them. Rather than deny and fear death Dia De Los Muertos teaches us to accept and contemplate the meaning of mortality.
The Hollywood Forever cemetery was founded in 1899 and is one of the oldest cemeteries in Los Angeles. It is located at 6000 Santa Monica Boulevard, adjacent to the north wall of Paramount Studios. Among those interred or entombed in the cemetery are numerous famous personalities including Rudolph Valentino, Henry Cohn, the founder of Columbia Pictures; Cecil B. DeMille; Peter Lorre; Jayne Mansfield; and mobster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel.