Entertaining the sacred: Dia de los Muertos

Dia de los Muertos. The name alone conjures images of graveyards, skeletal face paint and lost loved ones. The day, also known as Day of the Dead, is a traditional Mexican holiday where the living honor the lives of their ancestors who no longer walk the earth.

On Saturday, thousands descended upon the Hollywood Forever Cemetery to celebrate the 14th annual cultural celebration. Since its inception, the festival has become the largest Dia de Los Muertos event in the country.

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Due to the flamboyant outfits and strange customs, many westerners often perceive Day of the Dead as a Mexican Halloween, not aware of the deeper meaning behind the sacred day.

Traditional celebrations involve building altars for deceased loved ones called ofrendas. Brightly-colored sugar skulls, incense and marigolds decorate the altars, in an effort to attract and guide spirits for one last rendezvous in the realm of the living.

While many in attendance view the festival as another day to party, there are others who respect the history and significance of the celebration.

“This isn’t my culture, but I love it; it keeps you connected,” said Carla Hendrick, a Boston native who has been celebrating the holiday since the late 1980s.

Hendrick identifies with Mexican customs and beliefs regarding death, more than her own heritage beliefs.

“Death is to be celebrated, not something to be afraid of,” she said.

Firmly believing in staying in touch with the dead, Hendrick urged her roommate Eve Carter to join her for some cemetery festivities.

“I believe we need to stay connected to the dead, and this is how you do it,” said Hendrick.

This year, the presence of spirits was especially strong for Carter, who was in attendance to honor the memory of her mother Romona, who passed away only six weeks prior.

“I know last week I was having a hard time,” said Carter. “I came here and just had the best  day ever. It really helped a lot.”

Despite the elaborate ofrenda, Carter was not in it for the attention or entertainment, and only informed guests she was honoring her mother if they asked.

“I’m proud of her, I really am,” said Carter. “I don’t have a doubt in my mind that she’s having a good time tonight.”

Dia de Los Muertos is unlike anything typically found in American culture. The celebration brings people together from all cultures and all walks of life. Hollywood Forever blurs the boundary between sacred traditions and mainstream entertainment.