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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Carleton celebrates Day of the Dead

<tmosphere at Carleton’s annual commemoration of Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, on Nov. 2 was celebratory and inclusive, as Carleton students learned about the holiday’s history and honored deceased loved ones through song, dance and tradition. 

“It is a time of celebration, not mourning,” said student presenter and Latin American Student Organization member Patsy Pineda.   

The event, open to students and community members, was sponsored by LASO, the Carleton Student Association, the Spanish Department and the Chaplain’s Office.  It featured student presentations and performances, a traditional Aztec dance and a Witness to the Dead, during which students lit candles for relatives and friends who had passed away.

Presenters emphasized that although Day of the Dead decorations often include skulls and skeletons, the holiday is a joyous occasion, during which family and friends lovingly remember the deceased with cooking, art and music. 

The evening began with a performance by KetzalCoaticlue, an Aztec dance group based in Minneapolis.  The dancers wore handmade costumes with immense, feathery head-dresses.  They used a “sacred drum,” a conch shell and an armadillo shell guitar, as well as rattling instruments worn on their ankles, to create a lively and percussive performance. 

One dancer from the group explained the importance of the natural environment to their dance arrangements, saying “dance is about connectedness to nature” and a “desire to imitate the forces of nature.”

Student performers chose to commemorate the dead through song and poetry in both Spanish and English.  While two students collaborated on “De Colores,” a Mexican folk song, another duo presented the popular American song “I Will Follow You into the Dark.” 

Audience participation was an important element of the event.  The crowd was encouraged to dance and sing along with the musical performances and was invited to light candles and share stories for the traditional testigo a los muertos, or witness to the dead. 

Co-chair of LASO Isabel Rodriguez ‘12 said Carleton’s celebration of Day of the Dead is “a way of introducing ourselves to the community because we tend to stay within our cultural groups.”

In a short discussion about the celebration’s history, Rodriguez and Pineda spoke about the origins and current meaning of the holiday in Latin American countries, specifically Mexico.  They said the holiday is a result of the blending of sixteenth century Spanish Catholic traditions with the native religions of Latin America, where there is an understanding of death as renewed life, not as an end to life. 

One tradition that Carleton maintains is the creation of an altar, or “ofrenda,” dedicated to the spirits of the dead.  The presenters explained that these altars often contain small objects made from sugar that the spirits of the dead can eat, as well as food, drink, pictures and other objects that have personal significance to deceased loved ones.
Rodriguez said she was impressed by the number of people who attended the event.  Indeed, after the celebration ended, there was a brief scramble for the buffet table, and Rodriguez announced that, due to a larger turnout than expected, everyone would be allowed only one tamale to start.

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