Julieta Altamirano-Crosby unpacked elaborate paper cutouts, called papel picado. She set out candles, corn, candies, and skeleton figures adorned with sparkly paint. With Lupita Zamora and Maria Casey, she created a Day of the Dead display at the Lynnwood Library.
As the women went about their task Tuesday, they talked about their homeland, Mexico, and traditions of what’s known there as Dia de los Muertos.
Celebrated Oct. 31-Nov. 2 each year, the Day of the Dead holidays coincide with Halloween and what in the Catholic tradition are All Saints Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls Day (Nov. 2). Yet Dia de los Muertos customs have Aztec roots that long predate the Spanish and Catholicism in Latin America.
Through its rituals, death is seen as a natural part of life, and the dearly departed are celebrated.
Zamora’s hands were busy crafting tissue-paper marigolds. In Mexico, families take vibrant golden marigolds to cemeteries to decorate graves. On Dia de los Muertos altars at home, there may be candles, sugar skulls, photographs of cherished ancestors, a traditional bread called pan de muerto, and images of skeletons taking part in the joys of life.
One part of the Lynnwood display shows skeletons, or calacas, playing guitars, while another shows them dressed as a fancy bride and groom. The women made a smaller display, with toys and candy, in honor of deceased children — “angels,” Zamora said.
“The candles are light for the spirits, to guide them. It’s a highway they follow to your home,” said Altamirano-Crosby, of Mukilteo.
She is co-founder and president of an organization called Wa-Gro — named for her current home and Guerrero, her native state in Mexico. Through art programs and educational help, the Lynnwood-based nonprofit works largely with Spanish-speaking families.
In 2012, when her daughter was at Olympic View Middle School, Altamirano-Crosby created a Day of the Dead exhibit there.
She was involved as a Latino liaison at the Mukilteo district school. She brought a similar display to Horizon Elementary School in 2014.
Last year, Wa-Gro helped create a Day of the Dead display at Denney Juvenile Justice Center in Everett. It was part of an effort to help at-risk kids honor different cultures.
“This is a special holiday,” said Altamirano-Crosby, who moved here with her husband about eight years ago. She learned English at Everett Community College.
With Day of the Dead traditions, she feels connected to her deceased grandparents. “In our home, we cook exactly what they liked,” she said.
Her organization offers Latino art programs, which Casey has taught at the Lynnwood Library and Lynnwood Senior Center.
Altamirano-Crosby’s aim is to help Latino youth stay connected to their families and culture. Without that sense of belonging, she believes kids drift toward gangs and other trouble. “If we disconnect from our identity, who we are, we are lost,” she said.
At the Snohomish Library, the public is invited to a free Dia de los Muertos program Wednesday evening. The all-ages event, 6:30-7:30 p.m., will include help making sugar skulls, decorative cutouts, tissue-paper flowers and tortillas. All are items that may be used to create Day of the Dead altars to loved ones.
Kathy Smargiassi, children’s librarian at the Snohomish Library, will lead the Day of the Dead program. She presented it in years past at the Marysville Library. “It’s becoming more and more popular in this country,” said Smargiassi, who is not Hispanic.
Rather than dark depictions of death associated with Halloween — zombies, ghouls or scary skeletons — Smargiassi said that in Latin America skeletons are shown doing everyday things, “riding a bicycle or dancing.”
The trick-or-treating and costumes of Halloween are believed to have roots in Samhain, an end-of-summer pagan Celtic festival. People sought to appease souls of the dead, or protect themselves from evil spirits. Far from frightening, Dia de los Muertos is “all about the family,” Smargiassi said.
“It’s not only to pay tribute to Mexican tradition,” Altamirano-Crosby said. “It’s how we can talk about the beauty and the culture that every country has.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; email@example.com.
Day of the Dead
event in Snohomish
The Snohomish Library will host a free all-ages event highlighting Dia de los Muertos. Supported by Friends of the Snohomish Library, it’s scheduled for 6:30-7:30 p.m. Wednesday. Participants will learn about Day of the Dead traditions and make sugar skulls, papel picado (cut paper designs) and real tortillas. Part of Sno-Isle Libraries, the library is at 311 Maple Ave., Snohomish.
At the Lynnwood Library, 19200 44th Ave. W, a Day of the Dead display is on view through Friday. It’s sponsored by the Wa-Gro Foundation, a nonprofit working with Latino and Hispanic families.