SoCal is celebrating Día de Muertos. Here’s what to know
Throughout October, Californians joined Latinos around the world to celebrate Día de Muertos, which culminates today.
The tradition is capped off with events centered around Nov. 1 and 2, with observers adorning altars with offerings — ofrendas — such as radiant cempasúchil flowers, photos, candles, food and other items honoring loved ones who’ve died but journey back to the land of the living through memory.
Despite its name, Día de Muertos isn’t a celebration of death, but rather of life and family. It’s a reminder that love and memory outlast that inevitable event.
For those unfamiliar with the tradition, De Los reporter Chelsea Hylton put together a great guide exploring the history and symbolism of each ofrenda, which are “placed with a specific reason that correlates to Indigenous cultures.”
“The holiday originates from Indigenous people such as the Olmecs, Toltecs, Mixtecs, Zapotecs, Mayans and Aztecs,” Chelsea explained. “In their traditions, these groups perform ceremonies to honor the dead and partake in harvests.”
When the Spanish colonized the land that’s now Mexico, they placed restrictions on native rituals and imposed their own religious views. But the holiday survived Spanish occupation and the eventual formation of nations in North and Central America, becoming more personalized based on family and region.
The deep-rooted tradition exploded in mainstream popularity in the mid-2010s. Exposure to the festivities in the 2015 film “Spectre” — in which James Bond tails his target through a fictitious-turned-actual Día de Muertos parade in Mexico City before ruining the whole thing — and Disney/Pixar’s “Coco” in 2017 got more people interested in the celebration, though it’s been a cherished tradition among L.A. Latinos long before it got the Hollywood treatment — even before there was a Hollywood.
Given the holiday’s significance for many Southern California families and communities, the L.A. Times’ De Los team dove in this year.
Christian Orozco, assistant editor for De Los, told me he and his team “felt a responsibility to showcase not only its historical roots, but also how the holiday came to be what it is today.”
This weekend, De Los hosted its own ofrenda at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery for the 24th annual Día y Noche De Los Muertos. The event brought out thousands to honor the dead, visit altars, get their faces painted and enjoy parades and live music.
The De Los team handed out cards for people to write something about a loved one who’d died and place them on the altar. Angel Rodriguez, general manager for Latino initiatives for The Times, told me people filled out more than 1,000 cards at the event. Demand was so high that they ran out of cards and had to improvise with Post-It notes.
And The Times also published a digital altar earlier this month, where people can post photos of loved ones with colorful frames, along with notes of remembrance. There are more than 1,300 photos so far.
So what did Christian take away from the reception to De Los’ physical and digital ofrendas?
“This is a holiday that everyone, across different cultures, wants to celebrate,” he said. “Death is tough to process, but is also a uniting experience and we wanted that reflected throughout our stories and on our in-person and digital altars.”