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This article by Nicole Plett was prepared for the October 31, 2001
of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Offerings from the Living
In Mexico, the Day of the Dead — or "El Dia
de los Muertos," as it is known in Spanish — is a day of
and community celebration and remembrance. Allied through Christian
tradition with America’s own Hallowe’en, the holiday’s macabre side
is balanced by joy. "Day of the Dead captures the idea of unity
between life and death," says Maria Evans of the Arts Council
of Princeton. Death is part of the cycle of life, but this is a
celebrated by the living.
This year, the Arts Council hosts its second annual Day of the Dead
Celebration, a free community party that takes place at the council’s
home at 102 Witherspoon Street, on Friday, November 2, from 6:30 to
Maria Evans, an artist, art teacher, and the project’s director, is
the first to recognize that our post-September 11 community is not
a joyful one. Yet she was not inclined to cancel the event which made
its debut last year to community acclaim.
"It’s true it’s a difficult time, but I felt that we should still
have it," she says. "After all, Day of the Dead has been going
on in Mexico for hundreds of years, through all sorts of turmoil that
they have had to face." She is encouraging participation by adding
the words, "a celebration of life," to the party’s colorful
A centerpiece of the Day of the Dead party will be Latin Flavor, a
seven-piece Trenton salsa group led by the young pianist Dennis
Latin Flavor introduced salsa dance nights that became popular at
Trenton’s Urban Word Cafe, and has become widely known for its
of Latin music. Guevara was recently named the winner of the 2001
Charlie Palmieri Award for an up-and-coming Latin pianist.
Also featured at the community celebration will be a Latin American
dance troupe from Princeton High School, traditional Mexican ghost
stories told in Spanish and English by a graduate student at
a souvenir stand, and traditional Mexican party foods contributed
by area restaurants and markets. Using the whole building, Evans says
the band will be upstairs, with food and dancing. Downstairs the WPA
Gallery will softly lit, with a more sombre mood. Yet another
room will set up for the party’s most popular activity, a place for
children to decorate sugar skulls in the traditional way. Evans bought
her authentic sugar skulls from a vendor in Los Angeles and shopped
for colorful trinkets for the souvenir stand from Austin, Texas.
Day of the Dead is a time of fiestas and celebration and also a time
for reflecting on the afterlife, and on the memories and desires of
the dearly departed, Evans explains. Throughout Mexico there are
in homes and in cemeteries where the dead are remembered with food,
music, stories, and artwork. Relatives dance, sing, and share memories
of their loved ones.
Markets and shops all over Mexico are filled with special decorations:
skeletons, wreaths of paper or silk flowers, candles, and fresh
particularly marigolds which are being harvested at this time of year.
Among the edible goodies offered are skulls made of sugar and
shaped sweet rolls known as "pan de muertos."
At home, family members use these special purchases
to decorate altars constructed in honor of deceased relatives or
Also on the altars are placed favorite foods, photographs, and
belongings of the departed relative. In this way, when the spirits
come to visit, they will know they are still remembered. The smell
of burning incense and the light from the flickering candles help
the spirits find their way.
Young people are a key to the festival. And students at Princeton
area schools join the event by building elaborate, colorful altars
to exhibit in the Arts Council’s gallery where they will remain on
view throughout the month of November. Guided by a workbook written
by Maria Evans, students build their altars at school, and then bring
them to the council’s WPA Gallery.
A few schools declined to join this year, but not many, says Evans.
"One class is building an art altar to the artist Pablo Picasso.
Another class, from Stuart School, decided to address the September
11 tragedy more directly, with an altar dedicated to firemen as
she says. Other participating schools include the Princeton Charter
School, Johnson Park School, and Montgomery Middle School. A group
of home schooled children who take classes at the Arts Council also
asked to build their own altar.
Whether or not they join in the Friday night party, the students will
return to the gallery in November for a special session, led by Evans,
in which they look at and discuss all the altars.
Evans also joins in the art making. Last year she built a gallery
altar in memory of the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. This year she
Kahlo’s husband, the portly muralist Diego Rivera.
Maria Evans grew up in Michigan and attended college in California
where she was introduced to Day of the Dead. Her interest in the
grew as she came to know her Mexican sister in law. An artist and
art teacher, Evans saw the holiday as an ideal way to combine art
making for young people with an element of cultural and art history.
"In addition to making art they are learning about part of Mexican
culture." She learned last year that the community event can also
help area immigrant families from Mexico and Guatemala introduce their
children to some favorite family traditions.
Evans thinks the Council’s Day of the Dead festival may be more
than ever this year. "Some people may really want and need this
release. It’s kind of like the big crowds that showed up for the
games. The people wanted to be together as a group to celebrate
"Last year we had people of all ages and backgrounds and from
all walks of life having a good time. I’m hoping this year is just
as successful in bringing the whole community together."
— Nicole Plett
102 Witherspoon Street, 609-924-8777. Free. Friday, November 2,
6:30 to 9:30 p.m.
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