‘Dia de los Muertos’
After more than a decade hiatus, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History will host a Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) community celebration to emphasize the cultural importance of this Mexican festival.
Instead of one day, however, the fun-filled and educational event will take place from Thursday through Sunday.
Activities will include a Monarch Butterfly Migration Quest, face painting, crafts, and a pop-up shop featuring authentic handmade textiles, jewelry, clothing, ceramics and Day of the Dead-themed goods from artisans in Oaxaca and other Mexican states.
“I grew up with Day of the Dead in Mexico,” said Javier Rivera, who is spearheading the celebration with Stefanie Coleman. Both are on the staff in the museum’s education department — he as astronomy programs manager and she as community education manager.
“I remember it fondly. For several days, you would hang out with family, you cook, you prepare, you enjoy, you remember those who passed away. And on that day, you celebrate. You’re not mourning, you’re celebrating the fact that they’re revisiting you for a while in your memory,” recalled Mr. Rivera.
Ms. Coleman pointed out that one of the main activities at the celebration will be the self-guided Monarch Butterfly Migration Quest, a scavenger hunt, where participants travel to six locations around the museum to find clues.
“For example, in the Bird Hall, the clue says, ‘Some birds eat insects. Look for a bird that has a caterpillar in its beak. In the children’s section of the library, find the book, ‘Ghost Wings.’ Look in the back of the book to find out how many wildlife preserves for butterflies are in Mexico,” said Ms. Coleman.
Along the way, participants learn facts about the butterflies such as “The monarch caterpillar and butterfly retain toxins they eat from milkweed leaves, protecting them from predators.”
Ms. Coleman said, “We are focusing on the connection between butterflies and Dia de los Muertos because the migrating Eastern population of Monarch butterflies is often abundant in Mexico during the Day of the Dead. According to traditional belief, Monarchs are the souls of ancestors returning to earth for their yearly visit. Marigold flowers guide the spirits to their altars using vibrant colors and pungent scent.”
In addition to the other activities, La Calenda will host a trunk show from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Oaxaca native Bany Vargas started La Calenda as a retail shop in 2013 and was Santa Barbara’s only authentic Mexican imports store established for almost six years.
“We opened with the mission of sharing part of our Oaxacan culture and traditions with our community,” said Ms. Vargas. “We directly support local artisans in Oaxaca, most of whom are women. We also source from a few other artisans in San Miguel de Allende as well as Michoacan. We put lots of love and careful attention into the selection of each item.”
She will be back at the Natural History Museum for its annual Fold and Tribal Arts Marketplace from Dec. 6 through 8.
This past summer, Ms. Vargas decided to close the shop so “we can bring our ‘calenda’ around town in Santa Barbara as well as other cities in California and hopefully go out of town some day.”
She explained that a “calenda” is a unique Oaxacan parade of people leading to a celebration.
“But it’s not just any parade. It’s a tradition filled with fun, music, colorful regalia and larger than life ‘marmotas,’ which are gigantic papier-mache figures.”
Ms. Vargas will be back at the Natural History Museum for its annual Folk and Tribal Arts Marketplace from Dec. 6 through 8.
Also planned for the “Dia de los Muertos” celebration are a marigolds craft and decorating workshop on Thursday, a skeletons craft and decorating workshop on Friday and an altar craft workshop and altar building demonstration on Saturday.
“Stefanie and I are hoping for a large turnout from the local Spanish-speaking community so the museum can better serve all of Santa Barbara. This should be Santa Barbara’s Museum of Natural History. This is one good step in that direction. We hope this will lead to partnerships with community groups to plan involvement in next year’s celebration,” said Mr. Rivera.