Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a holiday with Indigenous roots that originated several thousand years ago in what is now Mexico and Central America.  

Celebrated the day after Halloween, an integral part of the holiday is creating an ofrenda,where community members can welcome back the souls of their loved ones who have passed. In honor of Dia de los Muertos, two local communities have organized ofrendas, or altars, that will be open to the public from October 30th to November 3rd.  

In the Paper City, the third annual Holyoke Community Ofrenda will be in the Baustein Building on Main Street. Easthampton is hosting their inaugural community ofrenda in Arrow Gallery on Pleasant Street. 

Zydalis Bauer spoke to one of the organizers to learn more about the holiday and why it was important for them to organize these community altars.

Submit a photo of your loved one to be included on the community ofrenda on the Attack Bear Press website.


Read the full transcription:

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a holiday with indigenous roots that originated several thousand years ago in what is now Mexico and Central America and is celebrated the day after Halloween.

One of the traditions involves the formation of an ofrenda, where community members can welcome back the souls of their loved ones who have passed.

In honor of the Dia de lost Muertos, two local communities have organized ofrendas, or altars, that will be open to the public from October 30th to November 3rd. This year marks the third annual Holyoke community ofrenda, located at the Baustein building on Main Street, and Eastampton’s first annual ofrenda, located in Arrow Gallery on Pleasant Street.

I spoke to one of the organizers to learn more about the holiday and why it was important for them to organize these community altars.

Jason Montgomery, Attack Bear Press: Dia de los Muertos primarily is a holiday that originated in southern Mexico amongst particular indigenous groups there. It was a very local holiday.

There’s actually multiple days. It’s Dias de los Muertos. It usually begins on the midnight of the 28th, with Dia de los Angelitos, or the little angels. It’s for children who had lost their lives, and then it moves into All Souls Day, and then finally, Dia de los Muertos proper.

Zydalis Bauer: One of the pivotal traditions of the holiday is the ofrenda. Can you explain what an ofrenda is and what it entails?

Jason Montgomery: So, ofrenda translated means offering. And I have our ofrenda for Easthampton behind me.

This is kind of the center point of the holiday, and it’s one of the reasons that we have chose to to do a community ofrenda versus a Day of the Dead celebration, because we really want to honor what this is. And the ofrenda is the altar that you are putting up to your loved ones who have passed on.

In a very literal sense, Dia de los Muertos is the return of your loved one’s spirits back to the earthly realm. They literally come and visit you, and they come and into your household, and they commune with you.

And so, the ofrenda, the offering is to them. It is to your loved ones.

It is normally three levels. It usually starts with the base level, which is sustenance, because we believe that in the afterlife, there’s no food, there’s no water. So, there’s a bowl of water to help quench their thirst.

The next level would be the things that they enjoyed about the world: you know, toys, there’s usually a little bit of booze, some tobacco, all of those things that they would enjoy and that they would love to see.

And then, on the top level is their photograph to remind them that we haven’t forgotten them, and so they can find their way.

So, it’s a way to have the people that you love come back and be a part of them, and you remember the things that they loved, and the things that they maybe didn’t love, and you remember all of them as a person and you get to be with them for for a couple of days.

Zydalis Bauer: This is the third, technically the third, annual ofrenda  in Holyoke and the first annual ofrenda happening in Easthampton.

How are these ofrendas available to the public?

Jason Montgomery: The Holyoke Community Ofrenda is available twenty-four hours a day. It is located at the Baustein building. You’ll go around the back of 532 Main Street any time, day or night. You’ll find the ofrenda. You’ll find it decorated and set up. So, it – twenty-four hours a day, through November 3rd.

For the Easthampton, for the first one, for the one behind me, It will be open from 10 a.m. to five p.m. Really starting tomorrow through November 3rd, you will be able to come to the East Works building at 116 Pleasant Street. We are in Suite 244.

Zydalis Bauer: Looking through all of the pictures from last year and everybody just submitting the the photos of their loved ones that they have lost, and as you were saying, the offerings, how does it make you feel as a Chicano — starting to celebrate Dia de los Muertos later on — but how does it make you feel to see the community come together and just be able to offer them a space for that remembrance and life?

Jason Montgomery: It honestly is the most fulfilling thing, as a community arts and engagement person, I think I have ever done. It really, truly, you know, I can’t begin to describe how meaningful it is.

There was one individual in particular, they had shared a photo last year of their child who passed away. And I didn’t know whose child it was, and so I come from — there were seven Gomez women, that my grandmother’s, there were seven of them. And so, I just kind of put this child with my people because I was like, “Hey, you guys like babies, look after her.”

And I was telling I was telling this individual as I was walking them to the ofrenda, about this child and about how I didn’t know whose people it was, so I put them with my people. And the young woman I was with broke down crying because it was hers.

And, you know, we had a long conversation about about…how no one’s really gone and how we’re all kind of connected. And it was it was one of the most meaningful moments of my artistic life. And you know, I will do this forever, as long as I possibly can, just based on the joy that one moment brought.

Zydalis Bauer: Now, you touched on briefly about the commercialization of the holiday and that appropriation. There’s a fine line between appreciation and appropriation.

What do you hope the broader community takes away from these ofrendas?

Jason Montgomery: I really, truly hope that they understand that this is, to some members of our community, this is a religious experience. This is a spiritual experience.

To other members of our community, this is this is a political action, and to yet other members of our community, this is a deeply important cultural action that they are taking, maybe for the first time.

And to be respectful of that. And to understand that this isn’t an esthetic, this isn’t a look that’s being put on. This is a practice that has a history dating back tens of thousands of years and that we should — you know, you’re welcome to engage. We’re inviting you in, but be respectful.

This isn’t an alternative to Halloween. This is a holiday in and of itself that’s celebrated by many, many, many people in many different ways. It’s also a joyous experience. Have some joy! It’s supposed to be fun! Like, you know, it’s you know, it’s a different look at death.

But, you know, I say to everyone, just remember that that culture is never an esthetic. It’s never a costume to be worn. It is something to be engaged with and learned from.