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For the first time the Historical Society is recognizing a Day of the Dead exhibit at the Silvas Adobe. The Historical Society is celebrating the life and times of the Jose Maria Silvas family and Tony Forster, great-great grandson of Don Juan Forster, who purchased the Mission San Juan Capistrano in 1845. Tony was president of the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society for 17 years.
The Day of the Dead has been a popular holiday in Mexico and Latin America for centuries and is becoming a popular celebration in North America. Dating back to the Aztec culture in Mexico, Day of the Dead, known as El Dia de los Muertos, is a joyous celebration— not a sad event.
In the Aztec culture, there was a strong connection to departed family members. It was not uncommon to bury family members directly underneath their homes to keep their memories close.
In Europe, the Celtic culture celebrated Samhein, the ancient holiday that honored the transition of the departed into the spirit world.
The early Christians in Europe understood the importance of honoring the dead and to welcome people into the Church and, therefore, incorporated many of their traditions into Halloween, All Saints Day and All Souls Day. The dates for these rituals took place on Oct. 31, Nov. 1 and Nov. 2.
When Christianity arrived in Mexico, El Dia de los Muertos was a vibrant and important celebration. Again, the Church, recognizing the importance of the customs of the local people, incorporated the festivities into the All Saints and All Souls Days.
While Halloween, the night leading up to All Saints Day, is a scary time of ghosts and goblins, El Dia de los Muertos is a time for happy reflections of departed loved ones. In Mexican culture, little angel spirits, angelitos, arrive on Oct. 31 at midnight and stay for 24 hours. Adults come the next day and stay through Nov. 2.
Home altars, called ofrendas, are arranged to welcome the spirit of the departed back into their home for a short stay and let the deceased know that they have not been forgotten. Favorite foods are placed at the altars.
Family photos and favorite mementos are also displayed. Sugar skulls, with the departed one’s name on them, are a special reminder. After the spirit of the departed leaves, the family can enjoy the food of their loved ones.
Marigolds are the flowers most associated with Day of the Dead. Orange is the color most used because it is the closest to the color of the sun. Often orange marigolds line a pathway to the home of the loved one so their spirit can find the house. The flower also has a strong, pleasant scent that is easy for the departed spirits to follow.
Visiting cemeteries, decorating family graves, and having picnics are all part of this family celebration on El Dia de los Muertos. The events at the cemeteries are festive, lively and happy.
The Historical Society is hoping this is the beginning of many festivals of El Dia de los Muertos. And don’t forget the annual Ghost Walk being offered on Friday and Saturday, October 26-27. Reservations are a must, so please call 949.493.8444. The pirate exhibit is also on display at the Leck House. You can spend a Moment In Time exploring the multi-cultural events at the Historical Society all through the month of October.
Jan Siegel is a 28-year resident of San Juan Capistrano. She served on the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission for 13 years and has been a volunteer guide for the San Juan Capistrano Friends of the Library’s architectural walking tour for 18 years. She was named Woman of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce in 2005, Volunteer of the Year in 2011 and was inducted into the city’s Wall of Recognition in 2007.