Thanksgiving Point Dia de los Muertos bridges Utah, Latin American culture

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Thanksgiving Point will honor the cultural tradition of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) this weekend, marking the venue’s fourth year celebrating the holiday.

Event coordinator Nassari Everett, a Provo local and BYU graduate, said she is excited for this year in particular.

Everett has volunteered at the event in previous years. This year, Thanksgiving Point event director Summer Zemp gave her the job of coordinator to help bridge the gap between the English and Spanish communities in Utah.

Everett didn’t grow up celebrating Dia de los Muertos. Everett said her mother wasn’t sure what cultural traditions were appropriate to celebrate after she was baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

It wasn’t until Everett became a mother herself that she realized it was important to her that her children grow up knowing about their cultural history.

“It doesn’t matter what religion you are, culture is culture,” Everett said.

Everett’s mother attended the first Dia de los Muertos festival four years ago and will attend this year’s as well.

Nadia Cates shares a story similar to Everett’s. Cates said growing up in California, her experience with Dia de los Muertos was very “textbook.”

Cates recently returned to Provo with her family after living in Mexico for the past three years, where her husband directed the Mexico MTC. Cates said she realized in Mexico that Dia de los Muertos is much more than a religious holiday; it’s a cultural tradition.

Everett invited Cates to participate in this year’s event. Cates accepted, delighted at the opportunity to celebrate the tradition she came to love in Mexico.

“I’ve never done something like this before,” Cates said. “I’m just really happy that I get to be a part of it.”

Cates also said she is glad someone has taken the time to plan the event and educate the community on this tradition. Everett said those involved with planning the event want to be as respectful to the culture and authentic as possible. To further encourage participation from both the Latin and non-Latin community, everything will be in both Spanish and English.

A new element has been introduced to the event each year. This year, the new element is a sawdust tapestry. Cates suggested the tapestry after seeing several in the elementary schools her children attended in Mexico.

Putting together the tapestry has been a laborious process, according to Cates. She said the materials aren’t readily available in the states like they are in Mexico. This is a common problem that those planning the event have run into. Cates said she and other volunteers had to dye the sawdust themselves.

Marigolds, an extremely common decoration for Dia de los Muertos in Mexico, are another thing hard to come by in Utah. Cates said in order to combat this problem, Thanksgiving Point has dedicated an entire greenhouse to growing marigolds.

Other traditional elements will include traditional food such as pan de muerto and sugar skulls. Families can build and decorate altars to their ancestors anytime before the event begins at 11 a.m. on Saturday.

Participants are also invited to dress up in “el Catrin” and “la Catrina,” which Everett described as Victorian dress with sugar skull painted faces.

Tickets can be purchased online for $8 and at the door for $10. Children ages 12 and under can enter for free.

Unlike the American tradition of Halloween, Dia de los Muertos is not meant to be frightening. It is a time for families to be together.

“Death is a part of life and should not be feared,” Everett said.