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Sunday, November 1, 2009

Some ways to celebrate Dia de Los Muertos in Fresno

From the Fresno Bee.

In the central San Joaquin Valley, there are a number of ways to celebrate Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead). It’s as simple as walking in a candlelit church procession or dipping bread into chocolate in front of an altar.

Dia de Los Muertos is the two-day Mexican holiday with pre-Columbian and Catholic traditions honoring the dead. It is traditionally celebrated on Nov. 1, All Saints Day, and Nov. 2, All Souls Day. The celebrations this year will be Sunday and Monday.

Events are centered on the belief that the spirits of loved ones float back to Earth to reunite with their living relatives and friends for a brief moment. Altars serve as focal points, displaying the mementos of the loved ones.

Here are some ways you can take part in Dia de Los Muertos:

View exhibits

Take time to soak in the meaning of eight altar exhibits on display at Arte Américas, 1630 Van Ness Ave.

There’s a lot of detail to each altar honoring cancer victims, this year’s theme. Many include the Mexican art papel picado (perforated paper) in bright pink, orange, turquoise and purple.

The cultural center’s executive director, Grace Solis, helped build an altar remembering her father Henry Solis, uncle Juan B. Solis and nephew John Diaz.

She included her father’s hat on the display — one that he wore while gardening and welding.

“He built the gate to the [Del Rey] cemetery, where he is buried,” she says.

The exhibit runs through Nov. 25. The center is open 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursdays, and closed Sundays and Mondays. Cost is $3 for adults, or $2 for students and children.

Details: (559) 266-2623 or

Eat pan de muertos

Snack on pan de muertos, “bread of the dead,” the traditional sweet bread that is baked to honor the deceased.

Three extra tables are set up at Oaxaca Restaurant, 4773 E. Belmont Ave., to accommodate all the bread that is for sale.

Many loaves of the sweet bread are shaped like corpses — with heads that are smiling. One custom is to dip the bread into a bowl of hot chocolate flavored with cinnamon and almonds.

In the restaurant, the smell of burning copalli (incense) wafts at an altar displaying the mementos of owner Tomasa Lopez’s family.

“This time for us is really, really beautiful,” she says. “It’s family together, with our dead.”

The bread, especially shipped from Los Angeles to the restaurant, is available for $2-$10. The chocolate costs $6. Also available are popular Dia de Los Muertos foods such as mole negro ($7) and tlayuda corn tortillas ($1.25).

The restaurant is open 8 a.m.-9 p.m. daily. Details: (559) 454-1614.

Walk in a procession

Put on your walking shoes and join one of two popular processions.

In Fresno, the annual Artes Américas procession will start at 3 p.m. Sunday, beginning at St. John’s Cathedral, 2814 Mariposa St., and ending at Arte Américas.

Everyone follows Aztec dancers. At the center, strolling musicians will provide music. Pan de muertos and chocolate drinks will be available.

In the foothill community of Hornitos, about 85 miles northeast of Fresno, a candlelit procession and Mass will start at 6 p.m. Monday, beginning in the town plaza and ending up a hill at St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church and cemetery.

The church, built in the 1860s as a mission station of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Mariposa, is open only on the Feast Day of St. Catherine in late April and on the Feast of All Souls Day. Hornitos was a historic gold-mining town.

St. Joseph’s pastor, the Rev. Stephen Bulfer, leads the procession and Mass.

Details: (209) 966-2522.

Get crafty

Create your own shrine to honor the dead.

Need ideas? Check out the Web site of Crafty Chica Kathy Cano-Murillo at Her products and blog can also be found at, a Duncan Enterprises Company.

There are lots of ideas at both Web sites for making altars and other Dia de Los Muertos-inspired crafts. You can also take a look at shrines created by some of the Crafy Chica’s readers for a “Create a Day of the Dead Shrine” contest that was held last week. Pictures of the shrines can be found at

Of Dia de Los Muertos, Cano-Murillo says, “It’s not a scary thing; it’s done out of respect.”

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