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Death was alive in Lincoln on Sunday during Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, celebrations.

A partnership between the Nebraska State Historical Society and Nebraska Folklife Network brought a series of events to numerous venues in the downtown area in observance of the Mexican holiday. The holiday honors and remembers the dead, traditionally with the creation of an ofrenda, or altar, and through dance, music and art.

All of that was in abundance at the different venues, which offered bilingual storybook readings, live mariachi music and folkloric dance, screenprinting, facepainting, arts and crafts, food and art exhibitions. Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler made a proclamation to honor celebrating the holiday in Lincoln forever.

Hundreds showed up to the Nebraska History Museum, the Lincoln Children's Museum, Bennett Martin Public Library, the Capitol and the Nebraska Union to participate in the events, which were all ages and free of charge.

"This turn out is incredible," said Sharon Kennedy, curator of education at the Nebraska State Historical Society. "We are just thrilled."

Kennedy served on a committee that worked to plan the event. Celebration of the holiday used to be held at the Sheldon Museum of Art until 2014, before it was picked up continued by the Lux Center for the Arts in 2015. After approximately 800 people showed up to the event at the Lux, the organizers decided to create the committee and plan it as a citywide event.

"The desire, need and interest were obviously there," said Lindsey Clausen, the education director at the Lux and a member of the committee. "We needed more partners and more space to really make it what should be."

Using 2016 as a planning year, the committee met once a month over the course of a year and a half to discuss the 2017 event. They partnered with local businesses in downtown Lincoln to see if they could create a sort of festival, where people could visit a couple of different venues along Centennial Mall to celebrate.

"It seemed like together we could do more," Kennedy said.

Sunday's celebration lasted from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. and was held at five different locations. Attendees used a "passport" where they could get a sticker each time they visited one and then could turn in a completed passport into a raffle for a prize.

Families like the Franklands of Lincoln planned on visiting each location for a different activity.

"I think it's important for them to learn about different cultures," said Lorraine Frankland while her son Lysander, 7, and daughter Della, 5, painted sugar skulls at Bennett Martin. "This fosters exposure for them to talk about something we don't normally talk about, too. It's a segue to then say 'look at how in Mexico, they celebrate those that have passed away.'"

That concept was one that made Mourning Hope, the Lincoln nonprofit that offers grief support for children and teens who have suffered a significant loss, want to be a part of the celebration in the first place.

"This helps us promote the idea that it's okay to name death and honor it," said Caitlin Mason, Mourning Hope's program director. "In Nebraska, you don't really talk about death when it happens. You do the 'pull yourself up by the bootstraps' thing and keep quiet. This is a good space for us to talk about how in the Latino community, you celebrate those people. It's just a good fit."

At every location, there was an opportunity for attendees to remember the dead in some way. Whether that was contributing to a wall of names of deceased friends and family at the library or viewing elaborate ofrendas made by Jose and Linda Garcia at the history museum, people used the chance to "keep the spirit alive," as Kennedy put it.

"I think it's a great educational experience," Kennedy said about the celebration. "You can learn about a special day and about something everyone can relate to. It's an opportunity to interact and to appreciate the culture. That's important. Especially now."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7223 or


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