Death doesn’t have to be scary — especially during Dia de Muertos. The Mexican Day of the Dead is an annual celebration of life that invites ancestors, friends and loved ones who’ve died to return to us for one night. “We live; we die,” says Dia de Muertos Ohio’s artistic director Hector Castellanos Lara. “It’s a cycle we all have to go through.” The 64-year-old Guatemalan artist expects up to 2,400 visitors and participants at Cleveland’s 15th anniversary celebration Nov. 2. Before joining in on the festivities at Cleveland Public Theatre’s West Side complex, Castellanos Lara walks us through three of this year’s significant cultural attractions.
Each year, local artists construct seven ofrendas, or altars, inside the campus’s church and decorate them with offerings such as marigolds, candles, incense and favorite items of those who’ve died. This year, a community altar will be erected for anyone to leave behind their own offerings. “There is some respect in honoring the dead,” says Castellanos Lara. “That’s a very important link to all civilizations.”
In the Parish Hall and churchyard, artists will paint faces from 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m., transforming visitors into skeletons. Guests are encouraged to come donning their own elaborate costumes alongside performers carrying puppets, stilts and more. “When you see these types of skeletons, they’re smiling,” says Castellanos Lara. “They have these beautiful costumes with flowers and sombreros and they invite you to learn more about the culture.”
At 3:30 p.m., the skeletons and calaveras, or skulls, participate in a 40-minute procession from CPT to Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church and the Craciun Berry Funeral Home, pausing at each location to pay their respects before returning. Led by a mariachi band, street performers and often a horse and carriage, the crowd is encouraged to join in the procession. “Everybody will start dancing,” says Castellanos Lara.