Day of the Dead builds community


Have you heard about the annual, upcoming Day of the Dead? We wanted to learned more about the celebration that started in Mexico, where it is known as Dia de los Muertos.

We have seen seen a lot of bright-colored faces painted as skulls. They are called sugar skulls, and they are part of the Mexican holiday tradition. We also keep seeing Halloween commercials with sugar skull costumes, similar to Halloween but much different.

The premise goes: At midnight Oct. 31 the souls of dead people are able to leave heaven and visit their loved ones for two days. Instead of ghost and goblins coming to haunt us, Mexico welcomes the spirits of the dead with family time, delicious food, decorations, fun dress-up clothing and candles. Why wouldn’t Americans love this? Look for a parade in Dayton on Nov. 1.

The more we read about the holiday the more we realized we need to ask an expert. We asked Gabriela Pickett, curator of Missing Peace Art Space in Dayton and founder of the Dia de Muertos parade, a few questions about this celebration.

Q: Why do Americans love Day of the Dead?

Gabriela Pickett: “Dia de Muertos is appealing to those who understand its meaning. People like the festivity because it is a way to celebrate the life of departed love ones. It is an opportunity to remember how much they enjoyed their presence in their lives. For some of us it is a way to heal from the loss in a positive way. This celebration can be embraced by everyone because we remember our ancestors. We want to celebrate their lives.”

Q: What brought on its sudden huge popularity here in Ohio?

Gabriela Pickett: “I was very happy when my great friend MB Hopkins talked me into celebrating Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead) in Dayton. My first thought was ‘Who is going to join us?,’ and, to my surprise, it turned out that hundreds of Daytonians enjoyed the celebration. Dia de Muertos is popular in Dayton, partly because it is a community building celebration. We have had people from dozens of countries participating in the parade and celebration. It is an all-inclusive celebration, where the youngest altar making person was 7 years old and the oldest 80 years old. It is popular because celebrating the loss of a loved one breaks-down cultural and ethnic barriers. It is based on the commonality of people and not the differences we create between people.

“The first Dayton parade took place in 2012. We had 300 attendees. It was a great success. People kept asking for us to make the event an annual one. The parade has grown larger each year; People from the Dayton community bring altars they have created to honor their loved ones, who have passed-on. Other altars are designed to create awareness about social issues affecting our community and the world.”

Q: Gabriella, can you tell us about fashions of the parade?

Gabriela Pickett: “The parade is whimsical. Some people paint their faces with traditional Mexican sugar skulls; others wear masks. One year we had a dress made entirely of Styrofoam cups and plates. Last year we had a rainbow wedding dress. People use their creative talent and surprise us every year.”

I know we can not wait to see what everyone is wearing this year, including the makeup, masks and brightly colored garb. We made a few awesome dresses and have some Day of the Dead sewing workshops at our shop, Sew Dayton.

Tracy McElfresh and Jesy Anderson are co-owners of Sew Dayton. Their monthly column provides information about local and area fashion-related events, shopping and fashion tips. You may reach them at sewdayton@gmail.com.


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