Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos in its traditional Spanish, has a new home in Atlanta. Historic Oakland Cemetery hosted its first Day of the Dead ceremony on Sunday, Nov. 6 from noon to 5 p.m. The event was a joint effort between the Consulate General of Mexico in Atlanta and the Institute of Mexican Culture.
Day of the Dead originates from native celebrations in Mexico, predating the arrival of the Spanish, to honor the souls of loved ones that have passed. It’s developed over centuries, mixing together indigenous and Christian traditions into what is now known as Day of the Dead. At its core, the ceremony still celebrates the dead souls of loved ones passed. It is not a somber occasion, but rather quite the opposite, with colorful decorations, lively music, festive clothing and face painting of calaveras — the iconic skulls most often associated with the holiday.
Adisde Handal, Office of Tourism and Cultural Affairs at Consulate General of Mexico in Atlanta, spoke about her excitement of the collaboration.
“For more than 20 years, we have done our Day of the Dead festival at Atlanta History Center — and we love our partnership with them. It’s been growing every year; at some point, there were more than 11,000 people on the grounds,” Handal said. “This year, [Oakland Cemetery] was willing to host the festival which filled us with joy, because we were really looking forward to having a festival in a cemetery like we do in Mexico.”
The holiday is traditionally celebrated on Nov. 1 and 2, when it is believed the souls of loved ones return to earth at night to be with their families. Due to other Halloween-themed events, the celebration was held on Nov. 6 — but that wasn’t a big problem according to Handal. The cemetery saw scores of people attend on Sunday.
Historic Oakland Cemetery isn’t just a place where the deceased are put to rest. It’s also a public park and museum, making it a perfect venue to host the festivities. Guests enjoyed the celebration while learning about local Atlanta figures who have passed and are buried there, Handal explained, highlighting the fact that anyone was welcome to attend.
“When we do a festival like this, we have a goal of showing our culture and traditions with non-Mexicans,” Handal said. “We’re having Mexican food, drinks, a special Day of the Dead bread, workshops for children, mariachi music, folk dancers and singers… and Xantolo, which is a special tradition in a part of Mexico called Huasteca.”
The Xantolo is a native dance with elaborate costumes celebrating the dead. The celebration also had face-painters, so anyone who didn’t have the time or skill could attend and get their face painted there — and partake in the contest.
But for those that solely passed through and had something to eat or drink, that was more than enough for Handal. At the end of the day, she hoped that there was something for everyone, emphasizing the goal of the event.
“Everyone can enjoy this festival,” Handal said.
Note: SaportaReport photojournalist Kelly Jordan attended the Dia de Muertos ceremony. See his photos from the event here.