TYLER, TX (KLTV) - The holiday known as ‘Day of the Dead’ falls in the first few days of November, though this ancient tradition has little to do with the scary rituals of Halloween.
The theme is death, with skeletons portrayed in costumes, decorations, and face painting. But this is a celebration of life.
Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is coming alive on the campus of Tyler Junior College. For a decade, students like Griselle Esparza have helped share this annual tradition rooted in Christianity and Mexican heritage.
“Come here with an open mind and take away a little part of our culture that we wanted to share with them.”
The holiday coincides with All Saints and All Souls days, according to Andrea Barron, who works at TJC.
"The gates of Heaven open and it’s an opportunity for dead adults on November 1st to come and meet with their loved ones,” Barron said.
Families set up altars called ‘Ofrendas’ honoring loved ones who have passed away. Custom calls for candles, incense to purify the space, and marigolds. The flowers' bright petals are scattered to guide souls from the grave site.
“You also put their favorite food, water for them, and gifts that represent what they liked and what they’ve missed from this Earth,” Barron said.
Reminders of life’s delicate nature are everywhere, like the pierced papers gently waving in the wind.
Barron carries on this tradition as a tribute to her grandmother.
“It’s one of those things that even if you say, “well we don’t do this here.” You know one of those things that makes you remember that she loved doing this. And now that she’s gone and passed away, I’m like you know I’m doing this for you.”
Three altars allow the community to remember family, friends, and influential celebrities. Their pictures and names are placed among mementos.
Nidia Hassan advises the TJC Hispanic Student Organization. While she didn’t grow up with this tradition, she’s been an important part of bringing the event to Tyler.
“[They’re] just trying to make sure that if they are they passed on that they still can make them happy and stuff like that and also they can still feel connected to their ancestors.”
Hassan says it’s important not to let the food and music overshadow the spiritual side of the celebration.
“The hope that you one day you’ll see them again, that they’re in a better place. And that you know our hope, as a as a believer, is to one day you know be reunited and always go ahead and hopefully be able to enjoy the afterlife together.”
Until that time, praying for the souls of the dead has become a lesson for the living.
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