Annual Día de Muertos Festival to pay respect to ancestors

Michael Hutchins
Herald Democrat
The 8th year of Denison Art Council's Dia de Muertos, a beautiful Mexican celebration, brought area residents and guest to the city for a day of fun, tradition, culture in 2019.

Area residents and guests will have the opportunity to honor departed friends and family this weekend with the 10th annual Día de Muertos Festival in downtown Denison. The event looks to bring attention to the Latin American holiday, which honors the memory and lives of those who have died.

The festival will take place from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday in downtown Denison hear Heritage Park. The event will feature dozens of vendors, live music and entertainment and a parade through downtown Denison.

"We really want authentic vendors and those with Hispanic origins," Denison Arts Council President Barb Stewart said. "It is not about Halloween, it is about the celebration of the people who have passed."

The holiday that inspired the festival — also known as Day of the Dead — originated in Mexico and coincides with the religious holiday or All Saints Day. The holiday seeks to honor the memory of people who have passed away through celebrations, and other regional festivities. One common feature of the holiday is the creation of home altars known as ofrendas that feature favorite foods and photos and other keep sakes from the departed it seeks to honor.

Puppets for the Dia De Muertos parade were created in the art department at Grayson College.

Denison's festival originated abo a decade ago when former Grayson College profession Steve Black  started expressing interest in the large-scale puppets depicting the dead and lost family members that are a common feature of the holiday. This later led Black to form the Skiddy Street Puppet Company, which is partnering for the event.

Black approached the council 10 years ago about folding a festival to bring recognition to the holiday and the arts and culture that surround it. 

For Stewart, the event has a personal connection as it reminds her of her mother who died when she was very young. Despite losing a close loved one, Stewart said her mother was rarely discussed by her family.

"Honestly, in the 50s you didn't talk about a lot of things and we never talked about her," she said. "Even though I was adopted by my aunt and uncle, her death was never discussed.

"For me personally, I just love the concept of commemorating the dead, keeping their memory alive and passing that on to the next generation."

Denison's Día de Muertos festival was one of a few large-scale events that continued last year during the COVID-19 pandemic, albeit with reduced events. However, many of the features that were scaled down last year have been brought back to full capacity. Since then, the festival has been held each year. While the festival only had nine vendors in 2020, there are closer to 30 this year, Stewart said.

One feature that will continue from 2020's festival is the inclusion of family packs for the first 200 visitors to the family area. This will include activities and arts that can be done from the comfort of home.

"That's what we did last year, and it was really successful," she said. "I think we did 50 to 100 last year and they were gone in a short amount of time."

The festival will also feature a showing of Pixar's Coco at Ivanhoe Ale Works.

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