Honor Your Ancestors & Have Fun at Cleveland Public Theatre’s 15th Annual Dia de Muertos

Photos by Steve Wagner

Sat 11/2 @ 11AM-10PM

A lot of people conflate the Mexican celebration of Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) with Halloween because of the proximity of dates, the skull/skeleton iconography, and the colorful costumes involved.

But unlike the increasingly commercial Halloween, Día de Muertos, which reaches back to indigenous Aztec traditions, is a day to honor one’s ancestors and to remember with love friends and family members who have passed. It’s a day of both celebration and respect involving food, flowers, music, dance and visual arts such as the commemorative altars (ofrendas).

For the past 14 years, Cleveland Public Theatre/Teatro Público de Cleveland has hosted an all-day celebration of Día de Muertos in its Gordon Square neighborhood. Year 15 occurs this Saturday, drawing on the traditional rituals associated with the day and including hands-on, family friendly activities, performances of all types, and the colorful procession of skulls and skeletons through the streets.

The first thing Día de Muertos Ohio artistic director Héctor Castellanos Lara wants you to know is that the Day of the Dead Festival is not about Halloween.

“We tell everybody it’s about real traditions,” Lara said. “We separate it from Halloween. Most people think it’s kind of the same thing, but it’s not. For many Hispanic families, the Día de Muertos celebration happens this time of the year. It’s actually a celebration where we honor our loved ones who passed away. We remember them and talk to our children about how important the event is to maintain the tradition, which has been taking place for more than 3,000 years.”

The event begins with face painting, craft workshops and holiday vendors at 11am, with free live music and dancing in CPT’s Parish Hall and the Church at CPT starting at 1pm. The main programming kicks off at 3:30 pm with the procession along Detroit Avenue, starting at Cleveland Public Theatre. Anyone can participate but due to its popularity, registration is mandatory.

“Three hours before the parade we’ll be painting the faces of people who will participate in the procession,” Lara said. “Some of them will come with their own costumes and makeup already done. We usually have around 600 participants. I think this year we’ll have more.”

As far as the altars are concerned, the time-honored tradition honors ancestors with a colorful display created by seven local artists, as well as a main altar, which will be created by the community. Anyone can bring an item meaningful to them to contribute.

Previous Día de Muertos events have attracted roughly 2,400 visitors with Lara hoping to eclipse the 3,000-person mark this year. For those folks who have never experienced Día de Muertos, Lara said the event will open eyes and expose a fun cultural event.

“It’s open to everyone, and 70 percent of the people who attend Día de Muertos are non-Latinos,” Lara said. “This tells you most of the people who come want to know more about it. They have a curiosity about what it is. They want to find out more about this highly respected holiday.”

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[Written by John Benson]

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