Día de Los Muertos California is a new project from Sol Collective and other cultural groups that responds to the challenge of in-person gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The project’s goal is to let communities continue practicing the tradition of honoring ancestors for Día de los Muertos.
“At the core of this community-driven project is a calendar of events to help people find local celebrations across California,” Sol Collective founder Estella Sanchez said. “This project also features a new user-generated statewide digital ofrenda, or altar, to provide a safe, COVID-19-free space to be in a community while honoring those who have left the earthly plane.”
Among the participating groups is Listos California, an emergency preparedness campaign that seeks to help Californians prepare for crisis situations such as wildfires, earthquakes and floods.
“With so much darkness in 2020, Listos California is honored to support this community project that aims to promote cultural awareness and healing. Let’s remember our loved ones while also remaining safe and physically distant to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Karen Baker and Justin Knighten, co-chairs of Listos California.
Día de los Muertos, which means Day of the Dead, is a traditional Mexican holiday that mixes elements from ancient Mesoamerican cultures with Catholic influences. Mesoamerican cultures believed death was not the end, but rather a transition of life.
The holiday doesn’t celebrate death, Sanchez explained. Instead, it’s a chance to celebrate the lives of loved ones who have passed away and share memories.
“As long as there is someone who remembers them, they remain amongst the living,” Sanchez said, “With the pandemic, we thought it was important to provide a way for people to safely continue this important and meaningful tradition.”
Mexica people believed that when a soul goes to the underworld, it needs help to travel across each of the levels before reaching Mictlan, the realm of the god of death and a place of eternal rest. The living could help their lost loved ones on this journey by burning offerings and constructing ofrendas.
The Catholic celebrations of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day blended with the traditions of this indigenous holiday to form what is now the Day of the Dead.
Today, Día de los Muertos is mostly celebrated on Nov. 1 and 2. It is a festival to welcome the souls of departed loved ones, as it is believed that once every year those souls can visit the world of the living.
One custom is to prepare altars in honor of loved ones. The altars contain food, flowers, candles, candy, sugar skulls, and other favorites to honor the deceased.
Sacramento-based Sol Collective is an arts & cultural center established in 2005 with a mission to provide artistic, cultural and educational programming and promote cultural understanding and empowerment through the arts.