The touching and insightful Disney Pixar film Coco pushed the Day of the Dead to the front of popular culture in the United States last year, but this celebration has been around for thousands of years in one form or another. The Day of the Dead is an established international holiday that can trace its roots back to indigenous traditions in the Americas and the Catholicism brought by the Spanish and other Europeans. Continue reading to hear about Chatham’s celebration of the holiday and see images of our ofrenda.
Every year, between October 31st and November 2nd, families from different Spanish speaking countries prepare a celebration to honor their departed loved ones. This is a special occasion to remember their lives and celebrate their memories. Families gather to enjoy their loved ones’ favorite foods, listen to their favorite music, and share memories. This celebration is called el día de los muertos (Day of The Dead) and originated with indigenous cultures in parts of North (Mexico) and South America. With the arrival of Hispanic civilization, this celebration was embedded and merged with the Catholic All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Currently, el día de los muertos has become a tradition with both indigenous and Hispanic roots. This custom was brought to the United States by immigrants and recently has become very well-known and celebrated in many K-12 schools. To learn more about the Day of the Dead celebration, check out our Reference Guide on the topic: https://library.chatham.edu/dayofthedead
Chatham University celebrated el dia de los muertos for the first time this fall on Thursday, October 25th! This exciting event included an educational workshop about the holiday (its traditions and history) run entirely by Chatham students, a fun craft in the form of paper cempasuchil flower making, and a quick ceremony to honor our dead loved ones. As a university, we selected three people (or groups of people) to honor on the ofrenda. This year we voted to honor Antwon Rose Jr., Victims of Police Violence, and Victims of Mass Shootings, and each member of the Chatham community was encouraged to make a paper flower or a paper butterfly to add to the altar to remember a specific loved one. The altar was set up on the first floor of the JKM Library and remained up for a few weeks for others to view and pay their respects.
We also hosted a second event on el dia de los muertos (Friday, November 2nd) that consisted of a presentation on grief, a conversation about remembering departed loved ones, and another hands-on craft. We made paper Monarch butterflies with our own personalized messages written on them while enjoying music and snacks. Folks could keep their butterflies for themselves or add them to the wall around the ofrenda with others. We enjoyed Mexican hot chocolate and pan de muerto at both events!
These events were hosted as part of Chatham’s Latinx Heritage Month celebrations and sponsored by Modern Languages, the JKM Library, the Multicultural Affairs Office, and the Counseling Center. A special thank you to adjunct professor Mildred Lopez Escudero for bring the program to Chatham and the JKM Library!