She may have left Mexico, but Carmen Johnson made sure to bring along a piece of its culture to Green Valley.

The coordinator of the Day of the Dead event at Desert Meadows Park on Wednesday shared the Mexican tradition — brimming with a lively altar or “ofrenda” that showcases brightly colored tissue paper and photos of loved ones. The multi-day celebration is for family and friends to honor the dearly departed.

“We celebrate all lives,” said Johnson of the second annual Day of the Dead event, which drew about 20 people, many of whom are members of the Green Valley Gardeners.

In Mexico, Día de los Muertos is a national holiday and has been for centuries, said Johnson. Traditions includes graveside vigils; making and displaying calaveras — “sugar skulls”; baking and eating pan de muerto; and tidying up or decorating graves. It’s a time when family and friends come together to remember their departed loved ones through food, music, prayer and colorful altars. 

“The ritual changes from family to family” as they welcome the deceased back for a day, she added.

Paying homage to their relatives, friends and even pets who have passed, the Desert Meadows visitors displayed photos and other memorabilia on the altar during an afternoon ceremony.

Among them was Sue Nelson, who placed a photo of her late husband, Jim, on the altar. Attached to the  frame was a fishing lure to commemorate one of Jim’s favorite pastimes and a martini glass with an a olive.

Also celebrating the event was Wilma “Happy” Thompson, who brought along a photo of her late husband, John, a former police officer from San Diego. The couple was married nearly 50 years.

“I read about this happening in the paper,” Thompson said with a smile. “I think it’s a beautiful tradition, and we plan to be back next year."

Johnson asked the attendees to form a circle, close their eyes and envision “a special person who was important in your life” for a minute of silence.

“Now, let’s eat,” she said, pointing to table of homemade cookies from a family recipe, fresh fruit, Mexican candy and beverages.

Reporter

Steve Sinovic is an Oregon native who has worked as a journalist all over the western United States.

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