From death, comes life, and from life, comes death. Ancient Mesoamericans recognized this, and several Central American countries and their diasporas continue to remember this aspect of the universe through the Day of the Dead. Saturday, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History hosted those looking to celebrate the holiday with a fun-filled community celebration.
The museum’s celebration, however, has been going on for a month long. Saturdays throughout October, the venue provided festival preparation craft and decor workshops for the public. This string of workshops was followed by a four-day celebration from Oct. 31 through today.
Saturday’s schedule of activities opened with a craft workshop to make nichos, or portrait or photo frames for the altar. Then members of the museum team demonstrated how to build an altar in the pavilion. After attendees saw how to build and decorate altars, they went on ahead and decorated their faces with some paintings.
Saturday attracted the thickest crowd out of the long weekend celebration: nearly 750 people attended the celebration, compared to more than 300 Friday and almost 150 Thursday.
Rey Juarez and Monica De La Rosa were among the 750 visiting Saturday, and they were satisfied with what they saw.
“It’s good to see that Santa Barbara still celebrates the Hispanic culture that it was founded on because it used to be a part of Mexico,” said Mr. Juarez. “We don’t celebrate it regularly, but traditionally, our families would.”
Ms. De La Rosa said that more young couples like her and her partner would find the museum a fun place for a date.
“It’s not like at a high cost,” she said. “It’s actually nice to walk around.”
Mr. Juarez added that the museum, with its nature and attractions, is a place to decompress and get away from busy life.
Ms. De La Rose’s favorite attraction was the owls. The Santa Barbara Audubon Society, which operates out of the museum, were showing off a screech owl by the name of Puku, a barn owl called Athena, and a great horned owl named Max. Max was a favorite among the kids, because he regularly bobbed his head to a beat of his own.
Another attraction that kids loved was the planetarium, and Javier Rivera — the manager of the astronomy program — steered the helm of the magical tour through the universe. Mr. Rivera explained to the audience why the Day of the Dead is celebrated during the time that it is, and much of it has to do with the sun.
The sun rises in the east and sets in the west only two days each year, once in the spring and once in the fall during the equinoxes. During the rest of the year, the sunrises and sunsets take place either north or south from its “true” directions, depending on the time of the year. While the spring equinox led to longer days in the summer, the fall equinox meant shorter, darker and colder days.
Ancient Mesoamericans and other prehistoric civilizations realized this pattern, and each culture assigned their own sets of beliefs and values to the time before the darkest half of the year. Some refer to this quarter period as samhain, and Ancient Mesoamericans believed that this was the time when the veil between the living and the dead was the thinnest. And thus, the Day of the Dead was born.
There are several other samhain-centered celebrations throughout the world. There are the Samhain festival that takes in Europe, Chuseok festival in Korea, and Obon Festival in Japan to name a few, which all take place just before the darkest quarter of the year arrives for that part of the world.