"The word death is not pronounced in New York, in Paris, in London, because it burns the lips. The Mexican, in contrast, is familiar with death, jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it; it is one of his favorite toys and his most steadfast love … he looks at it face to face, with impatience, disdain or irony.” — Octavio Paz
In Mexico, Paz’s words are never more true than during El Dia de los Muertos — The Day of the Dead.
Sunday, a slice of that festival will return to downtown Lincoln, where ofrendas (decorated altars), Mexican music and dancing and art activities will come to the Nebraska History Museum, Bennett Martin Library and the Bourbon Theatre.
“We’ve been doing a celebration for the past 12 years in some form or another,” said Sandra Williams, University of Nebraska-Lincoln associate professor of art. “It continues to grow and expand every year. We have a large Latinx population in Lincoln. It makes sense that would be part of Lincoln’s cultural landscape when it comes to festivals.”
The free Lincoln Day of the Dead celebration began at the Sheldon Museum of Art before moving to the Nebraska History Museum and, now, the library and the Bourbon, where music and dance performances will take place.
With its imagery of skeletons and skulls, El Dia de los Muertos is oft misunderstood as a scary affair, a la Halloween. In fact, it is a joyous occasion to welcome the souls of the dead that return each year to again enjoy the pleasures they once knew.
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Even though it is traditionally celebrated Nov. 1 and 2, The Day of the Dead has no connection with Halloween — the origins of The Day of the Dead are not known. But death played a prominent role in the mythology and art of pre-Hispanic Mexico. After the Spanish conquest of the New World, the Mexican people incorporated their ancient beliefs into the Catholicism forced upon them by the conquistadors.
Although publicly celebrated on the two November days, el Dia activities begin weeks before and continue after those dates within family homes.
The ofrenda is the centerpiece of the home celebration. The altars can be simple or elaborate, but most feature candles, flowers and pictures of deceased loved ones, along with saints, the Virgin Mary or Christ.
A large, interactive ofrenda, created by Lincoln artists David Manzares and Jay Kreimer that explores the history and meanings of El Dia de los Muertos, will be the centerpiece of the history museum’s event. Other ofrendas will be displayed there and at the library.
The Nebraska History Museum is also the site of face painting, letter writing, craft activities and a t-shirt printing booth, overseen by Williams.
“That’s what we’ve done for the last three years,” she said. “We have a free-will donation silk-screen booth. We generally print up 500 shirts in the booth in the afternoon. Butt this year is an hour longer, so we might make 600.
“There’s definitely a modern twist, but they’re based on traditional designs. Making them not only is part of the day, it’s an opportunity to continue the celebration past the event.”
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On Twitter @LJSWolgamott.