The Union Democrat
Día de los Muertos
Spirits rise at 11th annual celebration in Murphys
More than a decade ago, a few business owners in Murphys came up with the idea to make altars for people to view or place notes to lost loved ones in honor of Día de Los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead.
“The celebration started off small,” said Michelle Plotnik, 64, of Hathaway Pines, current president of the Murphys Business Association. “It was low key, but people got wind of it,
so the original business owners asked the association to make it a real event.”
On Saturday, 28 of the town’s businesses participated in the 11th annual Día de Los Muertos celebration that included a gathering in Murphys Park.
Día de Los Muertos is celebrated on Nov. 1 and 2,
throughout Latin America and Mexico and is a mixture of Aztec ritual and Catholicism. On this day, the dead are said to awaken and celebrate life.
Nov. 1 is a day to remember children who have passed away and Nov. 2 is to honor adults.
Families construct “ofrendas,” or altars, on which sugar skulls, photos of the deceased, images or statues of saints or the Virgin Mary, a favorite toy for a child and favorite foods are placed.
Sometimes even shots of tequila are included, and any other items to make the dead feel at home.
“It is a heartfelt event which the Hispanic community has embraced,” Plotnik said, adding that Día de Los Muertos “gives people an opportunity to honor someone they have lost in a public way.”
“The most important thing is for people to feel the event is meaningful,” she said.
The Gonzales family, of Merced, gathered together to take part in the event. The celebration is a family tradition for them, and they said they construct an altar every year when they go camping.
They attended in 2019 and said they were disappointed when the event was cancelled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Traditionally, there is live entertainment, music, dancing and performers such as the Ballet Folklorico Raices Mexicanos of Stockton, but none of the ongoing pandemic prevented that from being offered this year.
“It is a nice event, and we are hoping that it is more open next year,” Roseanne Gonzalez said.
Frank and Laura Desousa, of Tracy, were in attendance in costume. Frank Desousa wore his sash awarded to him for best costume at the event in 2017.
They were part of a large group of friends attending from the Bay Area.
A face painting booth was set up in Murphys Park for adults and children, vendors carried many skull themed items, and the image of artist Frida Kahlo seemed to be everywhere.
Joao Nicolau, 48, of Pinole, whose face was made up on one side as a skull, attended the event for the second time and said it was “amazing.”
At the end of the day, Apache medicine woman Leanne Snowbear, of Grizzly Flats, was called on to bless the ofrenda and to “thank the ancestors.”
Snowbear lit a smudge stick made of sage and wafted the smoke over the images of loved ones and notes written to them by their families.
Volunteers gathered up all of the notes, placed them in colorful paper bags which were placed, one by one by Snowbear into the fire pit near the gazebo as the crowd gathered to watch.
Snowbear said the ancestors read the notes and know that they are loved.