The aroma of bright yellow zempasuchil (marigolds) dance among the smell of home cooking, scents which collectively work together to wake the spirits of loved ones who have passed away.
Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a time to celebrate the dead, a day for the living to come to grips with the unavoidable reality that is death, and a day to summon spirits from their eternal sleep.
Speaking on the subject of Day of the Dead was Club Anthro adviser and anthropology professor Wendy Fonarow, who for a third year in a row presented a lecture before the GCC Classified Council on a theme relating to Halloween.
“It has become a sort of tradition,” said Classified Council member Catherine Crawford. “She has such an extensive knowledge of the subject that I anticipate she will be able to provide us with lectures for years to come.”
The theme for this year’s lecture is a result of last year’s speech when the topic of diverse attitudes towards the dead came about in a discussion. With this particular lecture, Fonarow wanted to demonstrate the differences between Halloween and Day
of the Dead festivities.
Fonarow illustrated Halloween as being more of an impersonal holiday as opposed to Day of the Dead which is more family oriented and geared to unite the living
with the dead.
Celebration for Dia de los Muertos stems from the ancient indigenous peoples of Mexico who believed that the souls of the dead returned each year to visit with their living relatives to eat, drink and be merry, just like they did when they were living.
Extravagant altars are made to honor the dead. These altars often consist of the favorite foods of the deceased, mementos, pictures of the dead, lit candles and bunches of marigolds used in order to attract the dead. It is said that the strong smell of the marigolds, the scent of the food and the brightly lit candles guide the spirits back to their homes and beside their loved ones, which is the main purpose for setting up these altars.
In contrast to Day of the Dead, Halloween calls for another approach which differs greatly from the other cultural celebration.
For Halloween, people of all ages dress up in costumes and wear masks in order to deceive the spirits. The idea of saying “trick-or-treat,” as Fonarow explained, is threatening and forces people to give treats to those looking to cause mischief.
Preceding the lecture Fonarow took the time to open up the floor for a question and answer segment, during which a member of the council asked a question relating to Halloween iconography. This spurred some interest from both Fonarow and the council to make it a possible topic for next year’s lecture, lectures which Fonarow enjoys very much.
“For me, it’s [lecturing] is a way to stay up-to-date on what’s going on,” she said.
“They’re topics that people like, but when they get to know them more, it just opens them up to something different.”
In addition to Fonarow’s lecture, she was asked by the council to judge a pumpkin carving contest.
All three of the pumpkins on display for judging illustrated a typical Halloween scene. Fonarow decided on a winner based on creativity and which pumpkin stuck most to the Halloween theme.
The winning pumpkin depicted the typical, spooky hollow tree complete with real-live leaves placed delicately on the stem of the pumpkin.
The magic began when the lights in AD 217 were dimmed and the candles in the center of the pumpkins illuminated the room generating several “oohs and ah’s.”
Winners of the pumpkin carving contest were said to have having learned new things about Day of the Dead.
“Wendy Fonarow is totally engaging as a lecturer,” said Crawford. “Her knowledge about Halloween is so extensive that she literally can answer any question that is thrown at her.”