Day of the Dead Fest Promises Delights for Eiteljorg Guests

NOPAL Cultural and the Eiteljorg Museum to host “Dia de los Muertos” celebration on Saturday to educate visitors about the Day of the Dead

“What’s with Mexicans and death?”

courtesy of the Eiteljorg Museum

courtesy of the Eiteljorg Museum

Following the release of Mexican director Jorge Gutierrez’s animated comedy “The Book of Life” last fall, the Day of the Dead holiday enjoyed extensive publicity in the non-Latino community; not all of it positive. While the film’s overall depiction of the holiday was favorable, some of its more macabre elements, from ominous skulls to an Armageddon-like Land of the Forgotten, did the Latin American holiday’s spooky reputation in America no favors.

This Saturday, Indianapolis Latino arts and culture organization NOPAL Cultural and the Eiteljorg Museum aim to change that.

The two groups will tag-team to host a free Día de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration at the Eiteljorg Museum from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. this Saturday, Oct. 31. Featuring an altar display, musical performances, a traditional Mexican marketplace, and a Catrina (costume) parade, the festival aims to show that the traditional Mexican holiday, celebrated from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2, is about more than just death.

Eiteljorg Public Programs Coordinator Sandra Schmidt said that during the celebration, “people will be able to admire the altars, artwork and photography on display in addition to creating papel picado [traditional cut paper decorations] and miniature altars of their own or adding a personal touch to the community altar.”

The traditional marketplace will offer a variety of items, from pillows to bags to sugar skulls. Visitors can also check out ofrendas (altars) designed by local artists. Schmidt said the ofrendas will honor both famous people, such as Selena, Maya Angelou, and Juliette Gordon Low, as well as “loved ones of the community and the missing children of Mexico.”

Scheduled performers for the day include spoken word group Indy Pulse, marching band Banda de Guerra United States of America, and traditional Mexican folk youth dance group Anderson Folklorico presented by Meztli Cultural.  

Anderson Folklorico Program Coordinator Tanya Gonzalez said the group will be performing Xantolo, or “traditional Día de Los Muertos dances from the Huasteca region in Mexico.” According to Gonzalez, Xantolo dances, which celebrate the deceased, are rarely seen in the United States.

Photo by James Walters

Photo by James Walters

“Dancers who perform Xantolo do not wear the commonly used Catrina makeup,” she said. “Instead Xantolo dancers wear various masks to disguise themselves from death with the belief that the dead return among the living during the celebration and that, by wearing a mask, the living can escape death when the celebration ends.”

While the Day of the Dead is often equated with a Mexican Halloween, according to Gonzalez, though close on the calendar, the two holidays could hardly be more different.

“Dia de Los Muertos is a cultural and religious celebration throughout Mexico which has spread into other countries, including the U.S.,” she said. “It is not related to Halloween.”

courtesy of the Eiteljorg Museum

courtesy of the Eiteljorg Museum

According to Schmidt, “People should come to the celebration to immerse themselves in an exploration of a Latin American tradition rooted in remembrance. The Día de Los Muertos festivities are sure to be entertaining, cross-cultural experiences.”

While the Day of the Dead may be neither creepy nor spooky nor Halloween related, it is a time to remember and honor deceased loved ones.

Go to Dia de los Muertos at the Eiteljorg on Saturday and discover this captivating holiday for yourself.