According to a sign on an altar I saw at Saturday’s Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration at the famous Hollywood Forever Cemetery, there are actually three deaths: the first comes when our bodies die; the second when we are buried; and the third and final death only happens when there is no one left alive who remembers us.
Dia de los Muertos celebrants do what they can to keep the third death from ever happening for former friends and loved ones.
The holiday is an ancient Mexican tradition that goes back to the Aztec days where the usually rigid line between the living and dead becomes as porous as the U.S.-Mexican border. During the celebration, the deceased are honored with altars featuring pictures and memorabilia from their lives. Their spirits are invited to attend the celebration where their living friends and relatives dress as skeletons to make them feel more comfortable in our world.
The celebration consists of native dancing, brightly painted skeletons and skulls, and dozens of elaborate altars. The altars are sometimes dedicated to a single person, like in the case of the one we saw that was made for Bela Lugosi, but more often they honor the descendants of an entire family. The family of Guadalupe Gonzalez, who died in September, re-created the front porch of his house as his altar with trinkets like a Raggedy-Ann doll, a football, several family photos, and a sombrero. A skeleton representing Mr. Gonzalez was placed on the porch, where he often took naps during life.
As we strolled the grounds with hundreds of other attendees, we saw altars dedicated to dead comedians, anti-gay bullying victims, and even to deceased cats. One altar featured a “wedding ceremony of the dead,” while another demanded justice for female victims of murder in Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua, Mexico.
My personal favorite was a large “Familia Quintero Reunion” altar featuring several living members of the Quintero family in sombreros and skeleton makeup who were symbolically inviting their deceased family members to drop in on the party. It was obvious to everyone looking on that the dead Quinteros were in no danger of suffering the third and final death anytime soon.
While it may sound creepy to some, the Dia de los Muertos festival at Hollywood Forever is one of the most fun celebrations you can have above ground.
(Tomorrow we will take a closer look at Hollywood Forever, along with its legion of famous residents.)