Alive and Well in Boulder County

Where to get in on the fun

By Lisa Truesdale

Despite its morbid-sounding name, Día de los Muertos—Day of the Dead—is actually a very happy celebration The holiday’s roots reach back thousands of years into Mesoamerican culture, and it was moved from summer to autumn after the Spanish conquest of Mexico to blend into the Roman Catholic calendar.

Dedicated revelers believe that death isn’t the end of one’s life but simply a natural part of the life cycle. To honor the tradition that the dead come back to visit the living once a year, family members prepare a big party to welcome their loved ones, complete with favorite foods and drinks to refresh the spirits after their tiring journey from the underworld.

Observances include cemetery visits and vigils (especially in Mexico, from Mexico City south), elaborate shrines decorated for departed loved ones, and artistic representations of skulls and skeletons. The official celebration dates are Nov. 1 and 2, but most events begin in October.

“Our area has a high number of families with blended backgrounds, ethnicities and religions,” says Laura Lambrecht, owner of Louisville’s Bella Frida, a store that features clothing and folk art from Mexico. “This could be the main reason why Day of the Dead festivities are popular here. Also, we have a lot of people who have been exposed to the holiday’s traditions through traveling, and now they want to include some of the rituals in their own celebrations.”

Lambrecht also explains why the holiday is important to those who are combining different religions and cultural practices: “The way death is viewed in the United States is generally quite different than in countries where they celebrate this holiday. I find it very uplifting and comforting to continue to honor and celebrate the lives of my relatives who have passed. I personally think this is a much healthier way to show how much I miss them.”

Longmont hosts what is believed to be one of the biggest and best-attended celebrations in the state, but other area events are gaining in popularity. Here are a few ways to get in on the fun in Boulder County.

Longmont Museum & Cultural Center

According to Ann Holley, the Longmont Museum’s curator of education, the museum’s huge Día de los Muertos celebration draws visitors from all over the state and beyond. “The event keeps growing every year,” she says. “Last year, we counted at least 3,000 visitors to the different activities. We also used a whopping 300 pounds of sugar for making our sugar skulls that people can decorate at the main event. It’s a lot of fun.”

Here’s a partial list of events that run from Sept. 26-Nov. 1; many of them are free. See the museum’s website for details and more events.

  • Sept. 26: Opening Reception and Exhibition Fiesta; 6-8 p.m., $5 (free for members).
  • Tuesdays, Sept. 30-Nov. 4: Curator Conversations with Ann Holley; noon (free with museum admission).
  • Oct. 15: Altar Builders’ Discussion, when the volunteer altar builders explain the symbolism of the altars they’ve built for the event; 7-8 p.m. (free).
  • Oct. 18: Oscar Bacerra Art Workshops for Kids; see registration details online.
  • Oct. 26: Volunteer Sugar Skull–Making Day, when anyone can drop by to help make the sugar skulls that will be decorated on Nov. 1; 1:30- 4 p.m. (free).
  • Nov. 1: Family Celebration, with music, dancing, sugar skull decorating, traditional food, community altars, and more; 11 a.m.-3 p.m. (free).

400 Quail Road, Longmont | www.longmontmuseum.org

Firehouse Art Center

Lady Catrina, modern Mexico’s “grande dame of death” and a well-known icon of Day of the Dead celebrations, lends her name to the annual affair at the Firehouse Art Center. The Catrina Ball on Oct. 10 signals the opening of the gallery’s Day of the Dead art exhibit and features community altars, a Catrina photo booth and other themed activities. Artworks remain on display until Nov. 2.

Muse Gallery

The Muse Gallery, run by Longmont Council for the Arts, spotlights local artists, and from Oct. 10-Nov. 1, a group of artists exhibit a variety of Day of the Dead–themed works. Companion events include an opening reception and gallery talk beginning at 6 p.m. on Oct. 10, and “Viva la Vida” dance performances at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Oct. 18.

356 Main St., Longmont | www.artslongmont.org

Lafayette Public Library

From Oct. 2-Nov. 30, view “Day of the Dead in Art & Symbol,” showcasing the paintings of Netanel Miles-Yépez, a Mexican-American artist, writer, comparative religion scholar and teacher of contemporary spirituality. On Oct. 12, he offers a free artist’s talk covering Day of the Dead traditions and his related artworks.

Lafayette Window-Painting Contest for Kids

The city of Lafayette’s fourth annual Window-Painting Contest gives kids in kindergarten through 10th grade the chance to decorate an exte-rior window at a participating merchant’s business. This year, kids from all over the area are invited to paint either a Day of the Dead, Halloween or fall-themed scene on Oct.11 or 12. Local artists judge the paintings, and prizes are awarded during the city’s Fall Festival Oct. 26. Register online for $3; painting can be done any time on the assigned weekend (rain/snow date the following weekend).

Bella Frida

With a variety of Day of the Dead–themed artwork and décor on hand year-round, Bella Frida in Louisville has earned a reputation as the go-to shop in the area for items to help celebrate the holiday. It hosts a variety of themed events that begin in early October with the store’s community altar, a place where anyone can bring photos, flowers, mementos and letters they’d like to contribute in remembrance of a loved one. The store also plans to offer a lecture on the significance of the holiday and a few art classes; check online for a schedule.

924 Main St., Louisville | www.bellafrida.com

The Dairy Center for the Arts

An all-day Día de los Muertos celebration on Nov. 1 features history presentations, an art display of Latin American artists, a public altar, tequila tastings, authentic Mexican food, live music, and a Mexican Village marketplace.

  • Nov. 1 | 11 a.m.-6 p.m. | The Dairy Center for the Arts, 2590 Walnut St. | www.thedairy.org.