Ever since Diego Rodriguez-V, employee at de Luna Jewlers in downtown Davis, was a little boy, his family remembered their deceased loved ones by celebrating Día de los Muertos, translated to Day of the Dead.
“We take a picture of a dead family member, make an altar for them and make their favorite meal,” said Rodriguez-V, as he showed traditional Mexican calavera (skull) art pieces on display at de Luna Jewelers.
Día de los Muertos is a traditional Mexican holiday that is celebrated Nov. 1 and 2 as a way to honor those that have passed. Instead of being a somber holiday, Día de los Muertos is a day to remember and celebrate the lives of family members that are no longer here.
For the first time, Día de los Muertos will be celebrated at the Davis Cemetery on Oct. 29 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
“For two years we’ve been planning this event, trying to get as many people involved as possible,” said Joe Finkleman, Davis Cemetery community outreach director and landscape designer.
The Davis Cemetery partnered with Slow Food Yolo, an advocacy group that promotes local food producers and vendors, to create the event as a way to expand and explore different cultures that people in Davis may not be familiar with.
“It seemed like a natural way to come together because Slow Food Yolo is all about expanding people’s food traditions and Day of the Dead has very strong food traditions,” said Davis Cemetery office manager Susan Finkleman. “It was a real natural way to bring the cemetery, food and expanding cultures into one event.”
The holiday is traditional in Mexican culture and is connected to All Saints Day and All Souls Day. A variety of cultures have holidays that celebrate the connection between the living and the dead, and it’s a strong expression of culture and spirituality, Joe explained.
“It’s a holiday that isn’t well-known in Davis, and we want to develop interest and educate the public about what Day of the Dead is,” Susan said.
People are encouraged to bring a picnic and a colorful blanket to the celebration. The event will include a live mariachi band, Mariachi Tonantzin, free Mexican hot chocolate and pan de muerte or “bread of the dead.”
Assistant deputy to Yolo County Supervisor Jim Provenza Sandra Rodriguez will design a traditional Day of the Dead altar, which will be on display at the celebration. Altars are decorated with marigolds, candles, food, pictures and everyday items that represent the person being celebrated.
“We set up the altar as if [the deceased] were there with us,” Rodriguez-V said.
For picnic supplies, the Davis Farmers Market is a good place to load up on fresh produce and food to bring to the event because it coincides with Slow Food Yolo’s mission of eating and supporting local food, Susan said .
Cool Davis, a local initiative trying to make Davis a greener city, recently awarded the Davis Cemetery with a Climate Solution Award for being environmentally friendly. Not only is the cemetery a certified wildlife habitat, but it’s also the first and only cemetery in California to offer “green” burials.
The Finklemans are working to make the cemetery a place for all types of activities and events, and the Day of the Dead celebration is a step towards that goal.
“We’re reversing a long-standing trend, which has been to shut your eyes and turn the other way when it comes to cemeteries,” Susan said. “We’re going back to the 19th century notion that death is an integral part of the life cycle and that a cemetery is a wonderful community resource; it’s a place to walk, do art and reflect.”
The Davis Cemetery is more than just a cemetery. With diverse plant and animal life, scent gardens and water features, the cemetery celebrates all aspects of life.
Day of the Dead is a family event and all members of the community are encouraged to come experience the culture that surrounds the holiday.
To experience everything the celebration has to offer, bring a mug for the Mexican hot chocolate, a picnic and a blanket but don’t bring alcohol.
“Come get your feet wet,” Susan said.
Since it’s Halloween weekend, children are welcome to wear costumes.
“One hundred years ago people would come to a cemetery, spread a picnic and enjoy an afternoon because it was a park-like setting,” Joe said.
“It’s not a sad place,” Joe said. “It’s going to be fun, different and it’s going to have a certain reality and veracity that you don’t find in a lot of places.”
To help give the cemetery an idea of how much Mexican hot chocolate and pan de muertos to have, please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org or www.slowfoodyolo.com. The Davis Cemetery is located at 820 Pole Line Road.
CASEY SPECHT can be reached at email@example.com.