International Club plans Dia de los Muertos festival

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Berryville International Club will hold a Día de los Muertos, or “Day of the Dead,” festival to help the living.

Dakota Smith, ESL instructor and International Club sponsor, said the Día de los Muertos festival will take place from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 28, in the Old Rock Gym on the Berryville High School campus.

Día de los Muertos is a Mexican holiday celebrated throughout Mexico, she said, and by people of Mexican ancestry living in other places, especially the United States. It is celebrated on Oct. 31, Nov. 1 and Nov. 2, she said.

“We’re having ours on Oct. 28, so it doesn’t quite line up,” Smith said. “But Día de los Muertos is in the middle of the week this year.”

She continued, “It’s a religious holiday rooted with the Catholic Church, and, like Halloween, it has neo-pagan roots to it. It’s tied into this belief that your loved ones can come back and see you on Nov. 1 and 2.”

She said the festival will feature many events, including a tug-of-war competition, an egg toss, a silent auction, carnival games for adults and young kids, a dunk tank and a traditional costume contest for anyone who wants to dress up in the t raditional garments of Mexico.

Smith said the students in the International Club will also be selling pupusas, chocoflan, skull sugar cookies and the traditional sugar skulls and pan de muerto, or “bread of the dead,” which is a type of sweet roll.

She said the festival will also feature traditional elements of Día de los Muertos, such as “ofrendas.”

“An ofrenda, which is Spanish for altar, is put together to honor an individual who has passed away,” Smith said. “I have one for Frida Kahlo in my classroom right now to teach my students about the practice.”

During Día de los Muertos, she said families and friends of the deceased person will leave food items, such as sugar skulls, candy and pan de muerto, on the individual’s ofrenda.

“If people want to build an ofrenda for someone at the festival, they can do that,” Smith said. “It’s not just for families from Mexico. A lot of my kids who voted to have this event didn’t really understand what it was at the time because they don’t celebrate Día de los Muertos in their home countries.”

She said students in the International Club will also have booths set up at the festival for their home countries in order to share their culture with the community.

“We will have booths representing the Marshall Islands, El Salvador and Guatemala,” Smith said. “We’re just trying to share the culture. My kids have told me they feel like people don’t appreciate their culture here.”

She continued, “This is an opportunity to show the community something about their culture so they can learn about it and understand each other better. I think we need to promote understanding as much as we can.”

Although some people are concerned about the holiday’s name, Smith said no one needs to worry about the Día de los Muertos festival.

“Even though it’s called ‘Day of the Dead,’ it’s more of a celebration of life,” she said. “The only real similarity it has to Halloween is the skull because that’s a symbol of life and death. The holiday is nothing like western Halloween, and it’s nothing to be afraid of.”

The money raised by the festival will not only go toward funding trips for the International Club, Smith said, but will also go toward disaster relief in the students’ home countries.

“They want to help Puerto Rico and the home countries of kids who are in the club,” she said. “Some kids only think about themselves, but a lot of my students work two jobs, don’t have their whole families here with them or are completely on their own. They’re very empathetic, so they really care about philanthropy.”

The students are preparing a lot of the food and activities for the festival, she said.

“The students from El Salvador and the kids representing Mexico are making pupusas to sell at the event,” Smith said. “The Guatemalan students are making chocoflan, and others will be making sugar skull cookies. We’ve also had a lot of people donate to the festival, which we appreciate.”

She said the Día de los Muertos will feature something for everyone.

“We’re going to have a ton of things there, including lots of food, carnival games and prizes,” Smith said. “There will be games for adults and games for young kids. We hope to see a lot of people there on Saturday.”

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