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“Día de los Muertos” which is Spanish for Day of the Dead is an observed holiday and tradition in Mexico. Although it originated there, the day is celebrated by many cultures throughout the world, including the United States. The day is a festive one, a celebration of sorts as families and friends gather together at cemeteries or at festivals to pray for, honor and reconnect with the spirits of their loved ones. One of the best festivals in this area is the event held annually in the Town of Mesilla near Las Cruces, New Mexico. The event takes place from October 31st through November 2nd.

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The historic plaza is transformed into a spectacle with unique altars scattered throughout.  These altars represent love and remembrance for the decease and are decorated with sugar skulls, pan de muerto (day of the dead bread), colored and decorative tissue paper, candles, fresh fruit and nuts, incense, marigold flowers, and other decorations. Families may also include photos and favorite foods, beverages, clothing and possessions of their loved ones. They are sometimes decorated with images of saints, ceramics and woven baskets.

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Altar building begins at 9 a.m. on Friday, October 31st and the festival officially begins at 2 p.m. that afternoon. The festival continues at noon on Saturday with activities for the whole family to enjoy. There will be face painting and hands-on activities for children. Music and dance groups will perform throughout the day and visitors can also enjoy traditional food and beverages. Several artisans and crafters will be onsite as well. All the activities are free to the public. The event will host Ballet Folkloric dancers at 4 p.m. and an evening concert at 6 p.m. with music from Latin Funktion.

Festival activities begin at noon on Sunday with Ballet Folkloric dancing at the plaza and things wrap up in the evening with the traditional Día de los Muertos procession at 6 p.m. The parade is a pageantry of costumes, some colorful and others in the traditional black and white, Calavera (skeleton) attire. People sing, play instruments, carry candles or carry objects from their loved ones. Faces are masked in skeleton style makeup while others pattern their faces in colorful mystic designs.

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The procession begins at the plaza and travels along Calle de Guadalupe to San Albino Cemetery. The procession returns back to the plaza, where participants and visitors can enjoy free coffee and pan de muerto.

The event is sponsored by the Calavera Coalition, a nonprofit organization who has been coordinating the event in Mesilla since 1998. The coalition will be collecting food cans for the needy. Altar builders are asked to donate five cans if possible.

For more information contact the Peggy King from the Calavera Coalition at (575) 639-1385 or  by email at calaveracoalition@gmail.com. Additional information can also be found at the Town of Mesilla at  (575) 524-3262.



Other Día de los Muertos events around Las Cruces

The Casa Camino Real Book & Art Gallery Center is featuring a unique exhibit called “Traveling Altars” for their Día de los Muertos celebration. The public is invited to bring suitcases that may be displayed as traveling altars. People are asked to fill their suitcase with a loved one’s picture as well as mementos. People are encouraged to include a favorite book or artwork as part of their altar. They can honor a family member, an ancestor, a friend, a pet, an author, or even an artist. The (suitcase) traveling altars may be dropped off at the Casa Camino Real during the week of October 27th at 314 S. Tornillo Street. The altars will be displayed at the Casa Camino Real center or at the Nopalito’s Galeria (Art Gallery) located at 326 S. Mesquite Street.

The center is also having an open house and reception on November 2nd from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visitors can enjoy the altars, music, beverages and book readings. They are also having an “Ancestors” potluck dinner in the evening. The public is asked to bring a loved one’s favorite dish to the dinner. For more information contact founder Denise Chavez at (575) 523-3988 or email them bbf@borderbookfestival.com

Also, the Branigan Cultural Center is hosting a Día de Los Muertos altar called the "Imagenes de Ayer" (Images of the Past) from October 31st. through November 28th. They will have photographs and items of the Barncastle, Garcia, Triviz and Fitch families. For more information visit their website.

Other sights of interest is a Día de los Muertos altar created by some students from the La Academia Dolores Huerta Middle School located at 1480 N. Main Street. Historian José Tena assisted these students with the large altar which is a tribute to Nati Cano, a legendary Grammy Award-winning mariachi musician who died recently.