Halloween … in Spanish
This is what students of the Interchange program at Colorado Mountain College in Edwards told each other during their cultural encounter this week.
Mexicans showed Americans how to arrange the altar, part of the celebration of El Dia de los Muertos, or The Day of the Dead.
Americans, meanwhile, showed Mexicans how to carve pumpkins.
While Americans celebrate Halloween today, Mexicans – which comprise about fourth of the Vail Valley’s population – are celebrating the Day of the Dead, a centuries-old holiday mixing ancient Aztec and traditional Catholic customs. The name “Halloween” actually means hallowed, or holy evening, because it happens the day before All Saints Day. While Halloween is supposed to be a scary deal, plays and parades are held in many places in Mexico during Dia de los Muertos.
“El Dia de los Muertos is a celebration when we make fun of death,” says Vani Terrazas, 38, a Mexican from Chihuahua who now lives in Edwards. “Mexico is the only country that laughs of death.”
In Mexico and other Central American countries, the holiday lasts from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2. During this time, people who have died are honored and their spirits are believed to visit the earth. Altars are built in homes and the markets are filled with special holiday foods.
Colorado Mountain College in Edwards celebrated both Dia de los Muertos and Halloween Monday night with a cultural interchange that included the furnishing for the altar and pumpkin-carving classes.
“We honored the Mexican actor, Mario Moreno, best known as “Cantinflas,'” says Sherezada Milfeld, a Spanish teacher who teaches the Interchange program, which focuses on conversational practice of English between native Spanish and English speakers.
The Altar of the Dead is filled with objects the dead person loved, such as a favorite drink, cigarettes and food, including the Bread of the Dead.
“But you can’t touch the food,” Milfeld says. “They take it to the cemetery and have a picnic there. People also take flowers.”
Tuesday was dedicated to the children in the college’s Family Literacy program. The free program – sponsored by the college, Eagle County, The Literacy Project and Early Headstart – offers pre-school classes for children 3 to 5. Their parents attend English as a Second Language classes at the college.
“Today, we’re trying to teach Mexican children what Halloween is,” Milfeld says as the children, dressed in costumes, eat Mexican and American dishes prepared by teachers and parents.
“This kind of event brings people together,” Milfeld says. “Mexican people think Americans reject them. And that’s not true. Most Americans love to learn about their culture.”
When the Dia de los Muertos is over, the legend says, the spirits have returned to the spirit world and the living are happy and at peace, knowing they have made the souls of the dead feel loved and remembered.
Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at email@example.com.