Back from the dead: LA’s ‘Day of the Dead’ festival is revived after COVID closed it down with revelers giving thanks to Mayan god who saved humanity from the underworld
The Día de los Muertos (or Day of the Dead) festival returned to Los Angeles’ Hollywood Forever Cemetery for its 22nd year on October 30th — where 40,000 people were expected to attend.
This year’s festival was composed of two separate ticketed events, ‘Dia de los Muertos’ and ‘Noche de los Muertos,’ where guests can enjoy and live up to cultural performances, art exhibits, culinary vendors, and much more.
This year’s theme is the return of Quetzalcoatl, an ancient god of the Mayans and Aztecs who revives mankind from the underworld with his own blood.
‘The theme of the return of Quetzalcoatl is to ponder the idea of resurgence and coming back from you know, such a tumultuous time,’ said Gabriel Avila, Director of Dance for LA Day of the Dead.
For Tyler Cassity, the co-owner and president of Hollywood Forever, its about welcoming back the festivities.
‘The 18 months that have preceded us have been really tough, and in many ways, it’s almost been like day of death every day, on the media in what we read and staying in our homes. So we’re emerging from that with hope, and the symbol of our hope this year is Quetzalcatl,’ said Cassity.
The fragrant smell of marigolds, or cempasúchil, was noticeable across the cemetery on Saturday, according to altar coordinator Angie Jimenez, who said she couldn’t wait for the annual festival’s biggest comeback since the coronavirus.
‘I love that smell and I love that it just hangs in the air,’ she told NPR.
Jimenez is responsible for overseeing the installations of ofrendas, typically known as an altar or special table where a collection of significant objects are placed and put together by families commemorating their deceased loved ones.
PARTY TIME: Dressed in traditional make-up and costume a woman participates in the celebration for the Day of the Dead or Dia de los Muertos at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles. Day of the Dead, is a Mexican holiday where families welcome back the souls of their deceased relatives for a brief reunion that includes food, drink and celebration
Dressed to the nines: Revelers in intricate traditional costumes take to the streets of Los Angeles, United States
Bones and sun: A giant skeleton figure is seen under the palm trees during a parade at the Dia de los Muertos in Los Angeles
Shall we dance: Dancers in death mask makeup perform traditional dances at the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festival at Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles
Funky scare: Aztec dancers participate in a ritual dance procession through the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in celebration of Dia de los Muertos
We got company: A reenactment of a funeral procession by skeletons is displayed at a gravesite during the festivities for the Day of the Dead or Dia de los Muertos in Los Angeles’ Hollywood Forever cemetery
This year’s number of altars will be limited from over 100 to just 80 due COVID-related reasons. However, that doesn’t matter to Jimenez, who still expects thousands of vibrant orange flowers, whose pungent scent comes from their leaves and stem, to be on display.
‘An altar just isn’t complete without them. And if you believe what the Aztecs believed, then your ancestors need the scent to find their way back to you,’ she told NPR. She also said that she’ll be be adding a couple dozen flowers to a personal family altar for her father and sister, who are buried at the cemetery.
‘Our cempasúchil display will be small by comparison,’ she said, adding that some of the bigger altars can carry thick, carefully put together garlands of the flowers that can potentially measure more than 50 feet, covered over elaborate altar structures.
‘I’m sure some will have thousands of flowers and when you walk up to them, Boom! The smell will just hit you in the face,’ Jimenez said, laughing.
‘You either love it or hate it because it’s like nothing else. Lucky for me, I love it.’
Colorful view: marigolds, or cempasúchil, were thick throughout Hollywood Forever Cemetery, which gives view to the famous Hollywood sign
A particiapant in a death mask make-up wearing elaborate headgear and dressed in a white wedding dress walks among the graves of LA’s Hollywood Forever Cemetery
A boy in a desk mas stands beside skeleton figurines circled by marigold petals
The roots of Día de los Muertos, which takes place on November 1 and ends on November 2, goes back centuries in Mexico and some other Latin American countries, but to a lesser extent.
It’s deeply tied down to pre-Hispanic Aztec rituals worshiping the goddess Mictecacihuatl, or the Lady of the Dead, who allowed spirits to travel back to earth to be with their living family members. That tradition was blended with the Roman Catholic observance of All Saints Day by the Spaniards when they conquered Mexico.
The celebration engages the creation of an altar with offerings that show photos of the dead, candles, bottles of mezcal and tequila, and food, sugar skulls, and the cempasúchil — the Aztec name of the marigold flower native to Mexico.
The fragrance of the bright orange and yellow flowers is said to be a path to guide the souls of ancestors and lead them from their burial place to their family homes. The cheerful colors also add to the celebratory tone of the holiday, which, although speaks death, is not somber but festive.
‘It’s a mixture of somber and solemn depending on when their loved one died. But also it’s festive. If you go to the cemetery there is also mariachi playing,’ Andrew Chesnut, professor of religious studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, told 8news.
About 40,000 people are expected to attend today’s day and nightlong celebrations.
Celebrations, including dancing, enjoy food and drinks are part of the Dia de los Muertos festivities. Pictured: A young mother and her infant daughter join a group of Aztec dancers in a ritual processor at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles
Spooky: A participant has his face painted in preparation for the celebration of the Day of the Dead or Dia de los Muertos at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles
Beware: A participant displays her makeup and head dress at the Dia de los Muertos festival on Saturday afternoon
About 40,000 people are expected to attend the Day of the Dead celebration at Hollywood Forever
Shall we dance: Dressed in traditional make-up and costume young women prepare to participate in a ritual dance procession in celebration of the Day of the Dead or Dia de los Muertos