This year’s Dia de Los Muertos event held in Paonia, the day after Halloween, was a somber time yet full of gratitude. The annual event was organized by The Learning Council, the Creative Coalition, The Cirque, and the Western Colorado Migrant and Rural Coalition.

Upwards of 50 people gathered on the streets to reminisce about their shared friends and family who have passed.

“While the event was buzzing with energy and excitement, the shrine was somber and felt like a sacred space. People delicately placed photos of their deceased loved ones on the altar along with food, trinkets, dried flowers, and candles,” said Amanda Campbell, TLC.

Campbell said children ran around excitedly decorating sugar skulls (Calaveras) while adults and children alike waited patiently in line to have their faces painted like skeletons, a gesture to ‘mock’ death. Hot chocolate was served along with community soup, cookies, and traditional bread for the occasion, ‘Pan de Muerto’. The bread and cookies used at the event were donated by Tri County Health.

The Learning Council sold wood-fired pizza to satisfy the hungry and there was a decorative procession down Grand Avenue, accompanied by a larger-than-life paper mache skeleton. People showed their love and gratitude for the day by dancing to music provided by a live DJ.

“We spent three working days leading up to the event by clearing out the community garden space behind town hall,” Campbell said, “This space has seen many changes over the years. We finally were able to level the ground together with a team of women landscapers.”

The team mulched the grounds and pathways with wood chips and a group of artists spent time building the ofrenda altar over the rubble of an old fireplace.

“We essentially turned the remains of an old condemned shed into a beautiful space filled with art and memories,” said Cambpell, “People were certainly thankful to have a communal space to commemorate their loved ones together. Some folks described the altar as ‘cathartic’.”

Campbell said some friends from the WMRC, some of whom are from Mexico, were able to teach participants more about the altar. According to the teachers, the altar is used to invite the spirits of deceased loved ones to join us in our homes and in this case, in our community.

“Photos of our loved ones beckon the spirits in, guided to the altar by brightly colored marigolds and candle light,” Campbell explained.

The four elements represented on the altar are: earth, air, water, and fire. Food and water are placed on the altar for the spirits to feast and enjoy. People can also place their loved ones’ favorite items/objects on the shrine. For example, someone left their grandparents cigarettes. Salt is also placed on the altar to purify the space.

“The holiday was originally an Incan/Maya celebration that was ultimately modified by the Catholics and incorporated into All Saint’s Day,” said Campbell.

Lisa Young is a staff writer for the Delta County Independent.

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