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Grand Rapids Public Library renews Day of the Dead tradition

October 30- November 1, the downtown branch of the Grand Rapids Public Library will be hosting the yearly Dia de los Muertos celebration to celebrate the lives of those who have died.

/Courtesy of the Grand Rapids Public Library

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Symbols and language:

Dia de los Muertos- Day of the Dead

Ofrendas- items on altars to honor the dead

Candles- used to illuminate the path to the altar and representative of the soul

Incense- offering to the gods

Marigolds- show the way to the altar

/Courtesy of the Grand Rapids Public Library

/Courtesy of the Grand Rapids Public Library

Dia de los Muertos, a Mexican National Holiday also celebrated in other Latino countries, will be observed at the Main Campus of the Grand Rapids Public Library from October 30 to November 1. During that time, residents who want to share the memory of family or friends who have died can build altars that will be on display for the public.

From October 28-30, school groups can come to see the altars in place and learn about the holiday, and November 1 is Family Day. On Family Day, there will be face painting, bilingual story time and tours of the library in Spanish.

“One of the things we really wanted to do was to engage our Latino community,” says the library’s Marketing and Communications Manager Kristen Krueger-Corrado. “So we thought that Dia de los Muertos is a holiday that maybe a lot of people in West Michigan aren’t familiar with that would be a really good way to connect to people with the Latino culture, so we decided to try it, and it was a huge success.”

For those who are not familiar with the holiday, Dia de los Muertos began in Latin America, though it is most strongly associated with Mexico. It started as a combination between indigenous Aztec traditions and the Catholicism brought over from Europe.

It is a celebration of the lives of those who have died rather than mourning them. On the days it is celebrated, it is believed that the dead are awakened to celebrate with their family and friends. November 1 is Dia de los Inocentes, which is dedicated to children who have died, and November 2 is Dia de los Muertos, which is for adults.

Because it is believed that the dead are temporarily reawakened on these days, gifts and offerings, or ofrendas, are left on the altars. These usually include foods that the deceased enjoyed, photos, flowers and cherished personal items. On these days, loved ones typically also clean the graves of the dead and spend time in graveyards.

Skeleton and skull imagery is another integral part of the holiday. The skeletons and skulls, or calacas and calaveras, appear in the form of sugar skulls, masks and dolls, and are usually portrayed as colorful and enjoying life.

The Grand Rapids Public Library created an event around the holiday in an attempt to engage the Latino community, but also to educate those who might not be familiar with it.

“We see people from all different cultures creating altars,” says Krueger-Corrado. “We always have that core of the Latino community that come in to create altars, but we’ve seen it grow throughout the community… We hope that [attendees] walk away understanding not only what is important to our community, what people hold dear to them, but also with an understanding of the Dia de los Muertos holiday and its traditions in Mexico and the United States.”

The event will be open for viewing from October 30 to November 1 at the Main Library. There will be family activities, as well as tours and storytelling in Spanish.

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