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Día de los Muertos celebration

Mexican folk dancers perform in traditional clothing for the festival attendees.
Photo: Bryan Webb · The Sentry

People with faces painted like candied skulls and colorful flower crowns on their heads filled the streets surrounding the Denver Botanic Gardens on Saturday, Nov. 2, as they participated in the festivities that the Gardens held for Día de los Muertos.  

Día de los Muertos, which translates to “Day of the Dead” in English, is a holiday that originated from and is traditionally celebrated in Mexico. The holiday begins on Oct. 31 and ends on Nov. 2. Over the course of three days, families construct “ofrendas,” or shrines, for their loved ones who have died. They leave food and marigolds as offerings and put up pictures of the ones they have lost. It is believed that the spirits of the deceased are only allowed to visit their living relatives during Día de los Muertos and that the “ofrendas” are the gateways for the dead to enter the land of the living. Publicly, there are often festivals with parades and feasts as patrons celebrate the return of the ones they love the most.  

The Botanic Garden’s rendition of the holiday began at nine in the morning and continued until approximately four in the afternoon. About 6,700 attendees braved the chilly weather to take part in the event, which featured face painting in a tent next to the Tropicary. The Metro State’s mariachi band traveled around the grounds playing beautiful Spanish melodies, and Mexican folk dancers who performed in the courtyard near the front entrance. Denver Zoo also made an appearance in the Tropicary with one of their resident turtles to educate guests about the importance of conservation.  

Vendors set up shops of white canvas tents near the folk dancers, many selling clothes and jewelry all hand made by Mexicans. One vendor in particular that stood out was selling traditional Mexican chocolate. People swarmed the front of the tent, all eagerly waiting to try the unique treat, which had more of a sharp tangy bitterness than even the American dark chocolate many are accustomed to.  

Of all the traditional entertainment offered, the most memorable and powerful tributes were the two open “ofrendas,” which were strategically positioned in the front and back of the event. Bright orange marigolds, made of paper to keep the shrines looking presentable in the frigid weather, hung above the tables where people had placed pictures of their loved ones among small offerings of food.  

A still mournful air surrounded the “ofrendas” as attendees were given small pieces of paper shaped like flowers and butterflies and pens to be encouraged to write the names of the late people they loved on the paper. They then placed their pieces of paper on the shrine, thereby dedicating a small piece of the offerings to their deceased family and friends. Several people could be seen praying over the “ofrendas,” as they remembered those who had moved on. 

The Día de los Muertos celebration put on by the Botanic Gardens was a fun yet powerful family event that beautifully captured a piece of Mexican culture.  

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