To celebrate the Day of the Dead, families gather at cemeteries and pay tribute to their deceased loved ones. Traditionally, altars with ofrendas (offerings) are placed on the gravesites. Just as I expected, the altars at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery were extremely elaborate. The more traditional ones had candles, burning sage, marigold flowers, miniature skeletons, calaveras de azúcar (sugar skulls), pan de muerto (bread of the dead), and offerings of the person’s favorite foods and drinks. The more over-the-top displays were incredibly vibrant and colorful—like pink and lavender skeletons or rhinestone-studded and sequined skulls—it was a lot to take in!
I think my favorite altar was dedicated to “Las Chicas Doradas” (which translates to “The Golden Girls”) where three skeletons sat on a couch eating cheesecake. They even saved room for Rose (sorry Betty White!) I was also really impressed by an altar to famous dead artists where canvases featuring skulls were painted in the style of the Masters. Of course, most of the altars were set up for families’ actual loved ones. I spoke with a nice woman whose mother had died in Hawaii, so she designed her altar with sugar cane, palm fronds, and a miniature volcano with offerings of gin. It was very touching to see many dedications to children who passed away too soon, as well.
When darkness fell it was a whole different scene: candles, twinkle lights, live music on two stages, and lots and lots of people. There were huge lines at the food vendor area for authentic tacos, burritos, and papusas, but it was definitely worth the wait.
Overall I’d say it was a resounding success, but I’m really glad I got there during daylight hours so I could take photos and beat the crowds. After dark it was like herding blind cattle along the narrow streets past the exhibits. It was really hard to see at night too, especially on the grass–I was afraid I’d trip over a headstone!
Besides having a lot of fun at the celebration, I learned a little something new about a different culture. If you didn’t make it this year, it is definitely worth checking out next time.
Here’s a link to my earlier story.
Here’s a slideshow of some of my favorite photos: