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West Valley Arts celebrates Day of the Dead, a holiday to remember deceased loved ones

Traditional alters, or ofrendas, are set up by community members to honor those who have died at the West Valley City Day of the Dead celebration on Saturday. This ofrenda was provided by the Mexican consulate.

Traditional alters, or ofrendas, are set up by community members to honor those who have died at the West Valley City Day of the Dead celebration on Saturday. This ofrenda was provided by the Mexican consulate. (Emily Ashcraft)

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Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

WEST VALLEY CITY — While many people are focused on Halloween this weekend, others are celebrating a different holiday: Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. This Mexican holiday, observed on Nov. 1 and 2, is an opportunity to celebrate the lives of loved ones who have died.

At the Utah Cultural Celebration Center Saturday, the Day of the Dead celebration included Mexican musical and dance performances, community alters or ofrendas, hands on activities and traditional foods. This is the 17th year that West Valley Arts and Cultural Foundation has hosted a Day of the Dead event, according to Laurel Christiansen, the nonprofit organization's marketing and communications coordinator.

"It kind of just started out as like a really small project in a room with like a couple of ofrendas, just listening to the community; and it's just grown and grown every single year," Christiansen said.

She said that many local artists, schools, community members and organizations set up the alters, which are on display until Nov. 4 this year. There are also dancers performing at various times throughout the day, concluding with the Danza Azteca Quetzalcoatl, which Christiansen said is the most traditional.

"My favorite thing is just celebrating community ... they come together and they celebrate (Day of the Dead) and it makes everybody feel more comfortable," Christiansen said.

She said that they expected about 2,000 people to attend the event Saturday. In 2019 they had about 5,000 people, but they are limiting the capacity this year because of COVID-19.

"West Valley City is Utah's first minority-majority city, and as such, West Valley Arts is dedicated to reflecting the city's diversity in our programming through commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion," A West Valley Arts press release said, "We believe the stories and traditions of all people need to be shared and that it is important for our guests to see themselves represented in the arts."

Alexis Gomez and his mom, Manuela Reano, make sugar skulls for kids to decorate as a hands-on activity at the event each year. The only ingredient in the skulls is sugar, and they are decorated with sugar flowers, icing and feathers. The skulls, Gomez said, are representations of family members who have died and can be placed on alters in the home next to pictures.

"It commemorates and represents those that have died, that way we can kind of hold onto their memory," Gomez said.

Gomez specifically said that the holiday helps him remember his late aunt who used to help him with math homework when he was in elementary school. He said the holiday is important to him, and now that he is not living at home he set up an alter at his own apartment.

Reano said that the skulls can be decorated to look like the ancestors that are being celebrated, like adding a frosting mustache.

The Mexican consulate partnered with FamilySearch to advertise for a Day of the Dead cultural event this week dedicated to remembering the stories of those who have gone, they advertised for the event at the West Valley Arts celebration.

David Cuellar, whose dad is with FamilySearch, said that they are hoping to spread the message that FamilySearch is open to everyone, not just members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He said the Hispanic demographic is frequently underrepresented in family history, and that they are hoping to get more participation.

Cuellar and his family celebrate Day of the Dead each year and set up an alter in their home to remember his grandfather who died about three years ago.

"It's a wonderful event because you really come together and really celebrate the life of a person," Cuellar said.


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