Day of the Dead is no ordinary celebration.
In fact, it’s an extraordinary one that celebrates loved ones who have passed on by showing appreciation and respect for the dearly departed.
For the past four years, La Vista Memorial Park in National City has put on a fiesta like no other.
Last Friday evening, it once again hosted Dia de los Muertos, inviting the National City community to not only enjoy, but also participate in celebrating the memories of those who have passed on.
La Vista Memorial general manager Luisa McCarthy came up with the idea for the event after her father passed away.
“I thought why don’t we do a Dia de los Muertos celebration?” McCarthy said. “Many in the community are Latino and Filipino.”
McCarthy said the event is for those who want to keep the tradition close to their heart.
“The purpose is keeping tradition because everybody has a loved one who has passed away and this is one day where we call their spirit here,” McCarthy said. “A cemetery is not just a grounds to be sad but also to celebrate life.”
In the last four years the event has grown significantly from 50 people to nearly 4,000.
Hundreds of people covered the cemetery grounds Friday from 5 to 9 p.m., partaking in the festivities which included face painting, crafting colorful sugar skulls, eating food, watching traditional dance and listening to music.
A nine-foot authentic Michoacán alter greeted guests toward the front of the event, while men to its left and right donned in traditional dress and painted masks celebrated the “dance of the little old men.”
“That dance reminds you of your grandparents and your father — the first ones who would cultivate the land and bring back the corn for the women to do the tortillas,” McCarthy said. “They dance because they’re happy that even though they’re old they can still be the providers of the family and they do it very proudly.”
McCarthy said the event is one highly respected by those who attend.
“The atmosphere, if you walked around — people smiled at each other, it was very loving,” she said. “It was just so peaceful and harmonious.”
At least a dozen families participated in an alter-building contest, all of which included aspects of the four elements — earth, symbolized with fruit and nuts; wind, with stenciled cut paper; water, left for the dead from their long walks to their alter; and fire, represented by the candles.
For Grace Acosta, it was her family’s first time participating.
Acosta, 42, grew up in National City and has lost many family members she and relatives celebrate each year.
“The tradition of altars is important to leave something behind for the family,” Acosta said. “My mom used to do it. I want my kids to see it and enjoy it. I think it’s too beautiful of a tradition to be forgotten.”
The Acosta family altar, “angels of paradise,” featured photos of loved ones who had passed, including her brother, grandparents, great-grandparents and uncles.
“It’s a very beautiful family event,” Acosta’s mother, Lupe Garcia said. “It helps us conserve our traditions.”
National City council member Louie Natividad has attended the event each year.
“I think that because of our history, because of our culture, that it’s a great idea because we were taught that our ancestors are spirits and that if we go down to the cemetery during that day that they come and join us,” Natividad said.
Natividad added that the city is fortunate to have a cemetery close to National City and that the owners take the time to put on the event.
“It’s good for the children to know about it and to not be afraid and to know that there’s a purpose for it … we need to continue this cultural tradition,” he said.