Most people are waiting in anticipation for Halloween this weekend, but that’s not the only celebration happening in LA this month. Dia de los Muertos, also known as “Day of the Dead,” is a Mexican holiday that pays remembrance to the departed with roots tracing back to Aztec traditions and Catholicism introduced by the Spanish and Portuguese in the sixteenth century. Even though the holiday generally takes place on November 1st and 2nd, the Hollywood Forever Cemetery received an early celebration last Saturday.
There were two things that immediately caught my eyes when I first entered the cemetery. The first were the extravagant skull-themed costumes that a majority of visitors wore during the festival. It’s believed that skulls contain spiritual powers so it was common to find hundreds of people walking with elaborate skull designs painted on their faces. In fact, there were numerous booths in the vicinity that specialized in doing skull face painting. Painting half a face ranged from $10 to $15 while painting an entire face costed $15 to $20. However, the price definitely reflected the quality and detail of the designs. There were many variations offered with some including images of flowers representing the Goddess of Death, Mictlancihuatl.
The second thing that really made an impression on me were the elaborate public presentation of altars in the cemetery. While some individuals were paying respect to family members with these altars, others paid tribute to celebrities, soldiers, and many others. Color lights illuminated a majority of these displays, projecting an aura of mystique to them. Modern technology were also incorporated into some designs with one altar utilizing a high definition monitor to provide a full multimedia experience to observers. People in costumes also integrated themselves into several displays, posing to the crowd. There’s no doubt that the intent of these colorful altars were to keep the memories of the departed alive by reminding us of their time on Earth.
In addition, musical performances echoed throughout the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, ranging from traditional Aztec dances to modern popular guitar music. Ruben Albarran, lead singer of Cafe Tacuba, was also present on one of the various stages to perform his rendition of “Alfonsina y el Mar” (“Alfonsina and the Sea”), a song filled with melancholy that was dedicated to the untiming death of the Argentine poet, Alfonsina Storni.
The air was not only filled with the sound of music; it was also filled with the scent of food. Numerous food vendors situated themselves near a performance stage on the southeast corner of the vicinity. Because I went there between 7PM and 9PM, the area was extremely crowded, but fortunately, the vendors behind the stages fared better for customers. One type of food I recommend is LA’s own danger dog, a hot dog wrapped and grilled in bacon with a hot pepper on top. Danger dogs are a stable of LA, but those who sell them often do it illegally because they fail to provide a license to sell or provide the adequate washing equipment to handle the meat properly. The booths inside the cemetery provided a rare opportunity for people to buy these juicy, spicy dogs legally and safely for only $4.
The Cathedral Mausoleum also stood near the food vendors, where local artists displayed and sold skull-decorated paintings and sculptures inspired by Dia de los Muertos. Many of these artworks held a personal meaning to them since they were often dedicated to a loved one who passed away. Small prints were available at an affordable price as a nice reminder of the festival, and many artists were nice enough to sign them too.
For a $10 entrance fee, I was able to enjoy hours of entertainment in Dia de los Muertos in Hollywood Forever Cemetery. There were an abundance of decorations, art, and music to keep me captivated. However, I do not recommend the event to anyone under three since I witnessed many frightened infants crying at the sight of skulls. Getting your face painted at the booths can be pricey, and the wait is long so I recommend everyone to apply it themselves beforehand. Although it does seem more fun to attend at night, be wary that it will be extremely packed by that time. Street parking is available west of Vine Street as long as you avoid Sunset Blvd and Santa Monica Blvd, but please pay attention to street signs.
You can see more photos of Dia de los Muertos below.
Until next time,