One of the more enduring traditions within Mexican culture is Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead. Dating back centuries, the holiday is celebrated both privately and publicly throughout Mexico and in New Mexico as well, but perhaps nowhere more enthusiastically, or on a grander scale, than right here in Mesilla. Every year, around the first of November, the historic plaza comes to life from Friday through Sunday with dozens of altars paying respect to the memories of the deceased. This year, Dia de los Muertos is celebrated October 28 – 29, 2023.
Integral to the celebration is the belief that the spirits of the dead visit their families during this time of the year. To pay respects to those wandering souls, families create elaborate altars in their memory, placing offerings of flowers, favorite foods, mementos, pictures, and more upon them.
Celebrating Dia de los Muertos in Mesilla
At the heart of this annual event is a small group of volunteers calling themselves the Calavera Coalition, a not-for-profit organization that has been in existence since 1998. Local lore tells us it was the owner of the Purple Lizard, Debbie Pinkerton, who began the event. She put together a show in her shop in 1997 and invited other artists to participate. So successful was the show that, the following year, residents decided it should become a true celebration. The Calavera Coalition was born, and the event was moved to the Plaza, where it has been held ever since.
What started out as a small event, with maybe a dozen altars on display and a few hundred people coming out to participate on a Saturday afternoon, quickly grew to encompass the entire plaza. Today, it has become one of the largest events in the Southwest with music, food and vendors, drawing thousands of locals, visitors, and tourists from all over the world.
Another reason the event has gained in popularity locally is that one hundred percent of the money raised through the sale of T-shirts and posters, as well as vendor fees, is donated to local charities. Participants who build altars are asked to donate three to five cans of food to the organization, which are then passed on to the local soup kitchen, Casa de Perigrinos. They also support Action Program for Animals and will accept donations of pet food.
Though many believe that celebrating a Day of the Dead is morbid – a kind of Mexican Halloween celebration – for those who participate it is more about keeping the memory of their ancestors alive. In the end, it is a reminder that all life is fragile, but that remembrance is one of the ways we move past tragedy and into connectedness.
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Dia de los Muertos on the Plaza
Posted by LasCruces.com