September 30, 2020

By MARYSSA MCFADDEN

Neruda Arts is a community-based organization which began in 2001 and has, ever since, been dedicated to connecting the community of Kitchener with music, drama and visual arts from around the world.

Now, for the first time, they connected the community with the afterlife. Their unique new event is called the Day of the Dead.

A celebration which dates back thousands of years, it was created in Mexico and has since been embraced by countries and cultures all around the world.

While this festival holds similarities to Halloween, the two holidays are actually very different.

As everyone knows Halloween is a time to dress up as someone you’re not, binge eat on sweets and scare people out of their wigs.

Day of the Dead, however, is a much more spiritual day to get in touch with people beyond the grave.

Held in Kitchener on Nov. 1, the celebration gathered together family and friends to remember and pray for loved ones who have died.

The event typically takes place from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2 and traditions range widely. The most popular ways to celebrate, however, are to honour the deceased with their favourite foods and drinks, build private altars and even visit the graves of friends and family members to bring them gifts or leave their old possessions on their graves.

It is a day to stop fearing death and embrace it instead.

This is exactly what Neruda Arts officials hoped would happen with their first festival – that the typical Day of the Dead would be filled with art.

“In Mexico, Day of the Dead is a festival and we are endeavouring to recreate that so Latin-Canadians and others can connect with and experience a community event that honours the dead with food, festivities and music,” said Arletta Murray, Neruda Arts’ communications director.

Some of the unique attractions included a reflective photo exhibit based on mortality, dancers and singers, skull face painting, a DJ as well as ethnic eats and scary treats to take people back to the cultures where the celebration began.

The aim was for the event to be festive yet reflective at the same time.

Neruda Arts also held a workshop on Oct. 29 so people could help create 20 shrines to be dedicated to their lost family members or friends. They were lit with candles and placed at the entrance to the Day of the Dead festival.

Murray had a close, personal connection to the ceremony, as her nephew passed away in May 2013.

While some people may not regard a Day of the Dead festival as an appropriate way to honour the dead, organizers did not have a specific demographic in mind, instead welcoming everyone.

“… I would say anyone who is interested in music, experiential arts and culture events, world music and people who are looking for a way to honour their deceased loved ones,” Murray said.

The event was promoted for all-ages and it was left up to parents to decide if it would be appropriate for their children or not. Certain attractions, such as the skull face painting, were specifically adult-only.

The original attractions were what brought many people to the festival. “It sounded like a lot of fun, something unique and different which is nice since Halloween events are usually all the same,” said Ryan MacDonald, who attended the event.

Though this was the first Day of the Dead celebration by Neruda Arts, they plan to make it an annual event.

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