Tradition views death in a positive way

PITTSFORD — Death is nothing to fear.

Spanish-language students at Nazareth College learned about this new perspective as they celebrated Day of the Dead on Nov. 2 at Casa Hispana.

The students also cut colorful tissue paper, called papel picado, to decorate an altar in the lobby of Casa Hispana designed to show them how a traditional altar would look. Mexicans celebrate the holiday on Nov. 1 and 2 in cemeteries at the graves of their loved ones, as well as by creating altars in their homes with pictures and favorite foods and items of their loved ones, explained Diana Casais-Almanza.

She said that the tradition is maintained throughout Mexico. And people everywhere open their homes to all visitors during this time to offer them food and hospitality, said Casais-Almanza.

"Everyone’s doors are open," she said.

The Mexico City native stopped in to talk with the students about the tradition after connecting with Paul Figueroa-Lippert, secretary for Casa Hispana and president of the Latin American and Spanish Major Association (LASMA).

"It’s important to let others know about such (traditions)," Casais-Almanza said. "Death is also part of life."

Most altars have levels to represent the person’s journey from earth to heaven and include something from the four elements of air, water, fire and wind, noted Figueroa-Lippert as he placed a glass of water, tissue paper, gourds, flowers and old photographs on the altar. Other students also placed their papel picado on the altar.

Although Shelby Otis knew a little about Day of the Dead, she never realized how much work goes into building the altars, she said.

"I think it’s important to understand cultures other than our own," added Otis, a junior who is studying English and Spanish. "It’s also important to be able to relate to everyone and have respect for each other’s cultures and be well-rounded."

Elgar Benavides said that he appreciated how the tradition views death in a positive way. The Long Island native’s family is from El Salvador, which does not celebrate Day of the Dead, he said. He grew up only taking part in Halloween.

"We typically look at death in a negative way," added the junior who is studying business and Spanish. "I personally believe this (tradition) would benefit if you lost someone really, really close to you."

This is Nazareth College’s the third year of offering Day of the Dead activities, which included a service at the college’s Linehan Chapel. The events are a collaboration between Casa Hispana, the Center for Spirituality and the LASMA club.

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