LOS ANGELES – Day of the Dead may sound glum, but in this city of angels, it’s an opportunity to party with deceased movie stars.
Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, attracts thousands every year to Hollywood Forever, a cemetery in the heart of LA’s film district. It’s the final resting spot for, to name a few, Burt Reynolds, Judy Garland, Rudolph Valentino, mobster “Bugsy” Siegel and punk frontman Johnny Ramone – all just 6 feet away (or should we say under?).
Dia de los Muertos traditionally is celebrated Tuesday and Wednesday; the festivities in Hollywood Forever took place last Saturday.
“It is a celebration of life and tradition that comes from our Mexican and Latin America people that dates back to Aztec and Mayan people,” said Angie Jimenez, director of the cemetery event’s altar program. “Instead of it being a daunting moment, it’s a celebration of life.”
Companies and Families created more than 80 altars for loved ones who have died, adorning them with photographs, decorations and some of the departed’s favorite things, such as cigars, baseball team memorabilia and bottles of tequila. The hope was, even in death, their family members might return and enjoy the tributes for one day of the year.
Families, many of Latino heritage, dressed up as skeletons in colorful attire and vivid makeup. Many of the thousands in attendance danced, marigold petals adorned the paths and the scent of incense filled the air to add an incentive for departed souls to return.
Lucia Escalante has been creating an altar at the event for 19 years. She began when her stepson passed away but, over time, it grew to include tributes for other family members and friends. For her, the event is a time that is shared with loved ones.
“I really enjoy doing the altar. I have friends and family that help me do this. I’ve made many friends who come back and see me every year,” she said.
For Janan Beltran, winning this year’s best dressed competition carries a special meaning, one she holds close in her heart.
“Three years ago, my husband passed away from stage-four colon cancer. I just want to honor him and continue his memory,” she said.
She drew a crowd wherever she went – the result of a five-hour makeup process that resulted in her becoming La Catrina – a stylish skeleton in a fancy hat and one of the most recognizable symbols of the day. She became a living skeleton, clad in traditional garb and painted head to toe in green makeup.
“Once I become a Catrina,” Beltran said, “I feel, like, metamorphosis. I’m at peace, I’m zen. Everybody here that comes to celebrate their loved ones, I feel connected to them.”
Saturday’s celebration brought a wide array of people to honor their loved ones.
“It’s important to remember the loved ones that we lost,” Wendy Aguilar said. “That is why we celebrate. We don’t see it as a sad event, we want to remember how they lived.”
The celebration has received more popularity globally, in part because of the Pixar movie “Coco.” The story follows 12-year-old Miguel, who gets transported to the land of the dead and meets his ancestors.
Arizonans will have a chance to celebrate as well. Day of the Dead festivities will occur at such places as the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, the Mesa Arts Center, Tempe, Chandler and the Vista Center in Surprise. Many of the celebrations include Mexican folklorico dances.