Bring out your dead – agave celebrates Dia de los Muertos tonight
Employees have set up an El Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) altar in the restaurant in preparation for tonight’s celebration; it’s dedicated to both Villa and Presley.
El Dia de los Muertos is a centuries-old tradition upheld in Mexico and Central America. The two-day celebration takes place Nov. 1 and 2. The first day is dedicated to santos inocentes, or children; the second is reserved for adults. It’s a way for people to honor their dead, not through funereal sadness but through festive rituals. The party at Agave will be markedly festive with food, music, dancing and costumes. They will be celebrating life by combining elements of Halloween with elements of Dia de los Muertos.
“We’re trying to cross cultures a little bit,” said Greg Martinez, Agave nightclub manager. “We’re a Mexican restaurant. We’re trying to let Mexicans know that we respect the culture, we respect the food. It’s almost a cross-cultural sort of thing.”
To prove the point, the altar holds photos of two prominent people who have come to symbolize their cultures. Pancho Villa, a turn-of-century Robin Hood figure, is considered the liberator of Mexico by some. Elvis Presley liberated American music.
“Pancho Villa is a mythic Mexican hero,” said Richard Wheelock, Agave owner. “He’s a sanguine figure of Mexican culture. Elvis is the hero of many people in this restaurant. So we honor them both.”
The origins of the celebration can be traced back to an Aztec ritual presided over by the goddess Mictecacihuatl, the Lady of the Dead. Death held a special place in the Aztec civilization; it was considered a blessing to die in childbirth, battle or human sacrifice.
Springing from such roots, contemporary Mexico still honors their dead with much pomp and circumstance – and joy.
Some families begin making their altars weeks ahead of time; some wait until the last minute. The important thing is to have it done by Nov. 1. Altars are characterized by several elements. They seem overwhelmingly yellow, heavily decorated with marigolds and chrysanthemums. Garlands of the flowers are draped high and low, and single blooms fill every available space.
The most important element is a photo of the person or persons being honored. Family and friends who have passed to the other side are remembered side by side. Candles are lit so the departed can find their way back. When they arrive, they can feast upon their favorite foods and drinks, which are put upon the altar. Tequila and soda pops dominate drink choices. Pan de Muerto (dead bread), a sweet bread, is found everywhere, usually with a criss-crossed pattern on top. Some people add a bowl of water and some soap, to refresh the spirits after a long journey.
On Nov. 2, the family gathers at the graveyard and spruces up the area. They plant flowers and clean the stones; on this day the burial grounds are filled with the living. A spirit of community pervades the air.
At Agave’s party, in the spirit of Halloween, there will be a costume contest with a cash prize. There will also be door prizes, including gift certificates for everything ranging from massages to dinners. DJ B will be spinning a mix of tunes including hip hop, house and salsa.
The party begins at 10 p.m. For more information call Agave at 748-8666.
Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at 949-0555 ext. 618.