Petaluma’s Celebration of Day of the Dead

The days of celebration for the Day of the Dead are November 1 and 2. The origin of this celebration dates back to colonial times, combining Catholic religious rituals brought by the Spanish, with the indigenous people performing their rituals in pre-Hispanic times. According to the Catholic calendar, the first of November is celebrated as All Saints’ Day in commemoration of the children who passed to the next spiritual plane, according to Catholic belief, while the second day is celebrated for the deceased who are adults. The celebration of the Day of the Dead is enjoyed by family relatives to demonstrate and remember that death does not represent a permanent absence, but rather a continuing spiritual presence.

The offerings created by relatives are an emblematic tradition of the celebration. An Ofrenda (or altar, depending on the region in Mexico) regularly contains photos of the deceased, candles, food for the dead, cempasuchil, bread of the dead, and chopped paper. Several times, such offerings are divided by terraces, and each one represents different levels of commemoration of the deceased. Not only are offerings and altars made and decorated, but also tombs in cemeteries are decorated with candles and cempasuchil. The cempasúchil is used specifically because the belief is that people use its petals to build a path that allows them to cross to the earthly plane where they find the offering in their house, and then be guided to the cemetery so that the deceased can be guided to death. Indigenous beliefs say that this tradition had the purpose of facilitating the crossing of the deceased between the earthly and the spiritual plane where eternal rest awaits them.

In our Petaluma community, the Day of the Dead celebration is recognized by various community members. This year’s celebration kicked off on October 15, featuring an art exhibit at Vibe Gallery (located in Downtown Petaluma). This exhibit featured various paintings by Pedro Cruz Pacheco. The exhibition was presented by the artist as the “Home of Love.” Most of the paintings are inspired by Latin and Mexican culture, where Cruz transmits his culture through his art. Among those paintings, there was a great variety on the Day of the Dead, contributing to the celebration as a whole. Pedro Cruz Pacheco was accompanied by Peter Perez, an artist who also focuses on promoting Latino culture and traditions to the community. Perez also hosted a community papel picado workshop at the Vibe gallery on October 20. Additionally, on Saturday, October 29, the Petaluma Day of the Dead Organization held a Day of the Dead procession, beginning at the San Vincent de Paul church and ending at the Mail Depot. During the walk, there was music, dancing, and food sales along with a wide variety of other forms of entertainment.

The celebration of the Day of the Dead not only remembers those who are physically no longer with us, but also works to attract the attention of the community, and how we give special value to life after celebrating death.