Tag Archives: Birmingham

Fiesta 2016 – Some of my Favorite Photos


Drummer for Los Canarios on the Fiesta Coca Cola Main Stage

We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day!  The sky was blue and the temperature reached the low 80s and the sun made itself known throughout the day.  After the constant drizzle of the previous year, this was so welcomed to the Fiesta board, volunteers and especially the patrons!

Approximately 14,000 people made their way to Linn Park in downtown Birmingham for the 14th annual Fiesta event on Saturday, September 24.  My favorite things to do every single year is to walk the park, visiting all the booths and meeting and greeting all the nonprofits, businesses and vendors who come to be a part of this incredible event.  I take their photos, welcome the new folks and catch up with old friends along the way.


A little girl wearing a traditional Mexican dress gets her nails painted in the Family Village.

One of the highlights of this years event was the competition between countries in the Cultural Village – the heart of Fiesta.  A group of judges went through – anonymously – and voted on the best country booth based on presentation and creativity.   This year the Mexico won the competition and took home $500!  Next year, the stakes will be even higher as the best country booth will walk away with $1,000!


A collage of photos from past Fiestas adorned the Mexico booth in the Cultural Village. The Mexico booth won the first ever competition of Cultural Village country booths!

By the way…next year will be Fiesta’s 15th year anniversary – our quinceanera…and we have big things planned for this milestone!  Mark your calendars for Saturday, September 30, 2017, for Fiesta 2017 and stay tuned for an event packed year leading up to this great event!


Mark your calendar for Fiesta 2017!!!!!

Meanwhile…please enjoy some of my favorite photos from this year’s Fiesta!

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American Boricua at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

BCRI Town Hall Panelists - Dr. Lynn Adrian, Wanda Benvenutti, and Dr. Carlos Aleman

BCRI Town Hall Panelists – Dr. Lynn Adrian, Wanda Benvenutti, and Dr. Carlos Aleman

In January, I attended a Town Hall meeting at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute called “Nuestra Cultura:  The Impact of Hispanic/Latino Cultures in the U.S.”  This event was in conjunction with the “American Boricua” exhibition being shown at the BCRI.  The panelist featured were Dr. Lynn Adrian, Department Chair, American Studies Scholars Program, University of Alabama; Dr. Carlos Aleman, Assistant Professor, Director, Latin American Studies, Samford University and Wanda Benvenutti, photographer of “American Boricua” exhibition.

The discussion began with a review of US immigration followed by the US census and how it has identified Hispanics/Latinos throughout the ages.  This then lead to a discussion of race – being white or black or brown and ultimately about language.  The biggest discussion centered about the topic of language and so many good points were brought out.  It has had me thinking for weeks now.  A future post will discuss Spanish language and my thoughts on this.

Besides the great discussion that night, another highlight for me was getting to meet exhibit photojournalist, Wanda Benvenutti.  She is a breath of fresh air…so full of life and energy and offered so much to the conversation about language, race, culture and identity.  Having lived in Puerto Rico for 6 years when I was growing up, she reminded me of one of my mother’s friends and I was always drawn to this woman.  Wanda clearly does not meet a stranger and I was definitely drawn to her!

Wanda Benvenutti's American Boricua - Puerto Rican Life in the  United States - at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in the Odessa Woolfolk Gallery.

Wanda Benvenutti’s American Boricua – Puerto Rican Life in the United States – at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in the Odessa Woolfolk Gallery.

Wanda’s exhibit – American Boricua, Puerto Rican Life in the United States – was extended through February 29th.  It is a visual history of Puerto Rican life in 50 states and examines how Puerto Ricans define home, family, culture, and identify.  Wanda hopes this exhibit will get people to think beyond race and focus on culture.  She states that to focus on culture is inclusive, genuine and real.  I tend to agree!

If you are wondering about the word Boricua, it is a term of endearment Puerto Rican’s use for one another.  It comes from the native Taino word for the island, “Borinken,” which means “Brave Noble Lord.”  I recall as a little girl singing the Puerto Rican national anthem – Borinquen – before classes when I attended Cupeyville Elementary, a private school in Rio Piedras.  Later I learned to play it on the piano.

I was able to see Wanda’s exhibit today and it was very moving.  Black and white photographs with simple titles.  Black and white photography is always so detailed and it draws you into the frame.  There was also a video looping which had Wanda speaking with a group of Puerto Ricans in a living room setting.  The biggest takeaway from that video was the woman who spoke about being Puerto Rican, being brown.  Her statement “we have come to the conclusion that we’re not white enough for the white people, and we’re not black enough for the black people.  So we’re caught in the middle.”  She went on to say that it didn’t bother her and she just goes about her business just fine.  All the people in the group discussion spoke about never having been invited to a white person’s house for dinner.  They talked about living in the south and how the image of friendliness and that your neighbor will bring over food to be hospitable is ever present…but they never had this experience.  I wanted to hear more but it was a short excerpt.  This is the kind of conversation we need to keep having though.  Hopefully, exhibits like this can bring that conversation about.

Wanda's photograph entitled - Abuelo (Grandfather)

Wanda’s photograph entitled – Abuelo (Grandfather)

Of all the photographs in the exhibit the one that is my favorite is called “Abuelo.”  This means “grandfather” and it was taken in the summer of 2002 in Philadelphia, PA.  I love it for the obvious reasons – the sweetness of the photograph – a granddaughter kissing her grandfather and the smile he has on his face.  But what draws me more to the photo is the image of their hands.  It’s the way her hands caress his face – cradles it – and the way he gently holds on to her hand as she shows her love for him.  It’s breathtaking…

I urge you to go by the BCRI and check it out before it is gone.  While you are there, take some time to also go through the BCRI’s permanent Civil Rights exhibit.  I see something different every time I go through…

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute - taken from the 2nd floor outside of the permanent exhibit.

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute – taken from the 2nd floor outside of the permanent exhibit.

One of the iconic exhibits in the permanent Civil Rights collection at the BCRI in Birmingham, Alabama.

One of the iconic exhibits in the permanent Civil Rights collection at the BCRI in Birmingham, Alabama.

Christmas Decorating and Hallmark Movies

My Mexican Christmas tree...before I started adding ornaments this year!

My Mexican Christmas tree…before I started adding ornaments this year!

The day after Thanksgiving is my day to get the Odom home into the Christmas spirit!  With Eddie’s help, we brought down all the boxes in the attic that I planned to use this year.

A few years ago, I took a bit of time after the new year and organized my Christmas boxes and labeled everything by room.  This makes it easy to get the decorating done and also pack everything back up after new yeas.  I also have quite a few boxes of things I’ve used over the years but I’m not ready to part with yet.  Who knows?  Maybe my kids will want to use some of these things at some point.  We shall see…

I always start in the family room with the mantle.  Luckily, Eddie was still hanging around and was able to help me with lights on the mantle greenery.  The pre-lit garland decided it was done but I’m liking the strand of lights I replaced it with because the light seem brighter and there are more of them.  After that, Eddie went off to work on his “to-do” list and I was left with Hallmark Christmas movies and the rest of the decorating.

The mantle is decorated and Hallmark Christmas movies are on the TV...

The mantle is decorated and Hallmark Christmas movies are on the TV…

It’s become another tradition for me to watch all those sappy Hallmark Christmas movies as I’m decorating.  Honestly…you can predict the outcome to every single one and yet I cry at the end of them all!  It’s just like the those Hallmark commercials…they get me every time!

The only thing I changed up a bit this year was my Mexican Christmas tree.  I’ve bought quite a few new items this year and so I decided to retire a few older items.  I added the grab bag ornaments I found thrifting recently.  I also added all the tin ornaments I bought in Austin, Texas recently.  I bought a few sugar skull items at Sojourns in Birmingham a few weeks ago…they went on the tree too.  A few older items are a must every year, especially the crosses and my Virgen de Guadalupe ornament.  Mexican Santa ornament and my Christopher Radko -Feliz Navidad ornament (a gift from a friend) are always on the tree.  It’s the one tree I generally decorate myself so I take my time and enjoy the process.

Sunday night we decorate the family tree with the entire family – and we only decorate with Hallmark ornaments.  I guess you could say Hallmark is in our blood!  Another tradition…

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Sojourns Fair Trade Store

IMG_0007This afternoon I stopped by Sojourns Fair Trade Store in downtown Birmingham.  This place is such a treasure!  I mean,  I seriously never leave this store without dropping a chunk of change but I just can’t resist all the beautiful things!  From jewelry and clothing to lovely pieces of art from all over the world…if you are looking for unique gifts, this is the place!

When I arrived, Melissa Kendrick, my friend and owner, was busy getting new clothing merchandise ready to display for sale.  She greeted me with a big hug and began telling me about the clothing and a pop-up shop she is preparing to open in Montgomery.  I still remember the first time I met Melissa.  It was at her first location just down the street from her current location – 2017 Third Avenue North.  I went in at the recommendation of two friends who worked nearby and immediately fell in love with the place!  I remember having the nicest conversation with Melissa and thinking how wonderful to have a store like this in Birmingham!


Sojourns was the first wholly fair trade store in Alabama.  They offer unique items produced under fair trade standards from 57 countries.  For more about what fair trade is, visit the Fair Trade Federation website.  A sign in the store shares that fair trade wages are designed to provide fair compensation based on the true cost of production and are not based on any developed world wage standards.  Fair wages are determined by a number of factors including the amount of time, skill and effort involved in production, living wages where products are made, the purchasing power in a community or area and other costs of living in the local context.


Over the years I’ve purchased quite a number of items for my home and as gifts.  A few years ago, I took my daughters with me and I was oohing and aahing over a wooden salad bowl set and they surprised me with it for Christmas!  I was recently in the store with my mother and bought quite a few Day of the Dead items to add to my growing collection.  I have a collection nativity retablos too.  Today I was looking for a few more nativities and there were quite a few from all over the world.  It was hard to decide!

One of the Day of the Dead items I bought recently at Sojourns.

One of the Day of the Dead items I bought recently at Sojourns.

Melissa told me today that she wants to maintain a Day of the Dead section in her store as well as a Christmas section too.  She is expecting quite a few large shipments just in time for Christmas.  If you are looking for something different and something that you can feel good about purchasing, stop by Sojourns and take a look around.  I guarantee that you won’t leave the store without an item or two!  Here are a few photos of the store from my recent visits in a slide show.  Seriously…go visit Melissa at Sojourns soon!

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A Look Back at Birmingham’s Day of the Dead Festival

Candles light one of the altars at Day of the Dead #13

Candles light one of the altars at Day of the Dead #13

Every year I look forward to Birmingham’s Day of the Dead Festival.  This was year 13 for the festival and while it was a rainy day, the rain stopped right before the event was set to start and people made their way downtown.  As I’ve always said, DOD is a photographer’s mecca!  For a week after the event, it’s fun to see all the social media posts and photos of everyone dressed out in sugar skulls.  Photographers J. C. Bravo and Larry O.Gay are always on hand and capture incredible shots of the people .  In my opinion, their photos are breathtaking and really showcase the beauty of Day of the Dead.  Check J.C. and Larry out on Facebook when you get a chance and you’ll see what I mean…

Photo taken by photographer Larry O. Gay with my camera. Thanks Larry!

Photo taken by photographer Larry O. Gay with my camera. Thanks Larry!

At one point early in the evening, Larry grabbed my camera and took a photo of me with my husband, and my friend Theresa Deleon and her daughter.  So I now have an “original” Larry Gay photo on my very own camera!  Thanks Larry!

Meanwhile, instead of talking about the event, I’ll just let my own photos tell the story…



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Birmingham Chinese New Year Festival – Part 2


Amy Chen and I cut the ribbon to officially open the Chinese New Year festival in 2008.

This is the second of a three-part post about the Birmingham Chinese Festival Association and the annual Chinese New Year Festival.

In 2008, the Birmingham Chinese Festival Association (BCFA) made the big decision to move the Chinese New Year festival into Boutwell Auditorium.  This venue gave the festival the opportunity to expand entertainment and use the large stage in the venue.  And now, since the second year, the Boutwell has been the home of the festival and the main stage continues to be a focal point.

The tradition of having a ribbon cutting along with greetings from a representative of the City of Birmingham continues each year as well.  During the 2nd year, I had the honor of opening the festival along-side BCFA Vice-President, Amy Chen!  After we ceremoniously cut the red ribbon, the BCFA Drum and Dragon team performed and then lead a parade of people into the auditorium.  It was quite a site!  So many people and so many new sponsors came out this year to enjoy the food, fun, activities and the stage performances.


Chinese New Year at The Boutwell Auditorium in Birmingham, Alabama


Once again, Amy led the way in acquiring tradition Chinese costumes to be featured on the stage.  Another stage highlight was a Chinese acrobat troupe, direct from China, that performed.  They were incredible and the women performers had me wanting to get back to the gym and work on my upper arm strength!!!  Other popular booths included kids activities, games and having a phrase or your name written in Chinese characters.


One of the female performers from China at the Chinese New Year Festival. She was simply amazing!


One of the things I loved seeing was the sea of volunteers in coordinated Birmingham Chinese Festival Association t-shirts.  Call me a nerd or organization freak, but that really added to the “color” of the event.  AND, everyone began asking where they could get one!  I may have told someone it was an “ancient Chinese secret!”

It was estimated that over 5,000 people attended the 2nd year.  And with the close of year two, it was safe to say the festival was a secret no more!

Part 3 will showcase some of my favorite photos from the past 9 years, especially the festival this past weekend where I got to meet  Confucius!  Meanwhile, here are some pictures from the first Boutwell event.


This gentleman was writing phrases and people’s names in Chinese characters.


The drum group performed at the opening ceremonies. They are wearing the festival t-shirts that everyone wanted!


Amy and I get ready to cut the ribbon – I believe I was saying to her here – “are you ready?”


The Dragon Dance leads everyone into the festival after the ribbon cutting!


Walked up on a Mahjong game at the festival. My mother had a mahjong set when we lived in Thailand and I always loved playing with her and her friends as a little girl.


The Dragon at the festival always seems so real to me…especially the way he tilts his head.


These sweet children were intrigued by a presentation at the festival. They arrived dressed in Chinese costume.


The amazing Amy Chen introduces the Chinese costume fashion show.


BCFA President, Allan Staib and Vice-President, Amy Chen, speak to the audience after the fashion show.


Chinese acrobat shows off her talent!

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Birmingham Chinese New Year Festival – Part 1

This is the first of a three-part post about the Birmingham Chinese Festival Association and the annual Chinese New Year Festival.


Red Chinese lanterns lined the trees in Linn Park the first year of the festival.

The Magic City is filled with so many fun things to do!  Some weekends, its hard to decide which way to turn with so many options!  This past Saturday, I chose the 9th Annual Chinese New Year Festival at Boutwell Auditorium.  Of course, I’m a little partial to this event since I around when it was born in 2006.

Before the festival was officially formed, many of the Chinese groups and organizations around town would celebrate Chinese New Year with smaller events.  Even the Birmingham Museum of Art held a family event at one time.  The year 2005 was a turning point though, and a concerted effort grew among the community to create one large event – a festival – to celebrate Chinese history and culture.  This became a collaboration between the Birmingham Chinese Association (BCA),  the Birmingham Public Library, the Birmingham Museum of Art and several other Chinese cultural groups.  So, 2005 was the year the Birmingham Chinese Festival Association was born and they began planning their first Chinese New Year Festival in Linn Park.


Amy Chen of the BCFA served as Mistress of Ceremonies for the Chinese costume fashion show in the Birmingham Museum of Art. Here she entertains the guests with a favorite Chinese song.

Around this time, I met Amy Chen – a dynamo of a woman with a heart so full of a love of her Chinese culture you couldn’t help but smile every time she spoke to you about it!  I always loved talking to Amy.  Sometimes she would get so wrapped up in her stories she would tear up.  Naturally, that would make me tear up too!   She had been to my Fiesta event and loved what we were doing with our Hispanic cultural festival and wanted their Chinese festival to be a success just like ours.  Amy asked me to come to some of the early organizing meetings where I shared what we did with Fiesta, how we organized, the types of sponsorships we looked for and how we mobilized volunteers to share their culture.  Honestly, they had it all together already, but it was nice of Amy to ask me and for the organizing committee to listen to me.  I helped Amy with sponsorship referrals that year and again a few years later when she became President of the BCFA.  It’s hard to say “no” to Amy – and really, I didn’t want to because I know the work it takes to deliver a festival based on sponsorships and volunteers.   It really was a joy to help her.


The Dragon is always a symbol of the Chinese New Year Festival.

So the first event in Linn Park was February 2007.  It really was exciting and you could feel the excitement building as tables were set up by vendors and organizations around the fountain in Linn Park.  The smell of Chinese food began drifting through the air from the gazebo in the park and I couldn’t wait to grab a plate and dig in!  The opening ceremonies featured a ribbon cutting and fireworks along with the Dragon Dance through the park.  Across the street at the museum, Amy was busy at work getting a fashion show ready with modern and traditional dress.  In between costume changes, she arranged for music performances and even sang a song herself to the audience!


The models pose at the end of the Chinese fashion show. Some wore modern clothing and some wore traditional clothing. All were so colorful!


The festival drew about 4,000 people to downtown Birmingham on a sunny, cold February day, and much like Fiesta, it was more than was anticipated for a first time event and definitely enough to call it a success and began planning for the next year.

Part 2 – The festival steps up and moves into Boutwell Auditorium along with entertainment straight from China!


Photo opp with Curtis Pickens of AT&T, my friend, Peggy Burnett of the APC Foundation and Amy Chen at the sight of the ribbon cutting. Amy insisted we be a part of the ceremony!


The crowds were drawn to the many vendors at the festival. I saw many red lanterns walking away from the park, including one in my hand!


My friend, Peggy, learns how to use the Kau Cim Fortune Telling Sticks. First, you shake the cylinder so that the sticks pop out and then you select the tallest one. Finally, you read the number on the stick and look up your fortune in a book. Not as easy as it may sound but we enjoyed experimenting!


I love this picture of these little boys playing in the park.



This little girl was loving her costume and the fact that she got to walk the runway – a diva in the making!


This is Amy Chen’s daughter rocking this pink traditional costume.


This is probably one of my favorite costumes. I don’t know if it’s because of the turquoise color or simply the fact that the model is so beautiful.


This guy was hilarious! A friend of Amy Chen’s from work…he volunteered to walk the runway and did his costume proud!


In between costume changes, this young woman entertained the guests by playing a “sanxian” – a Chinese lute.

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Did Somebody Say SALSA?!!

IMG_8074Chances are, if you’ve been to any Zuniga-Odom gatherings over the past fifteen years, you’ve sampled my mother’s famous salsa.  And chances are, you’ve left that gathering wanting the recipe!  It never fails to leave an impression and now when my friends and extended family see my mom at one of my parties, they KNOW there will be salsa!  What can I say…it’s delicious and addicting too!

I went over to my mother’s house the Tuesday before Thanksgiving to watch her make her famous salsa.  She was ready to get started as soon as I walked in the door.  In fact, she had been cooking all day and even sent me home with Puerto Rican chicken and rice a few hours later.  Our Odom family Thanksgiving dinner is on Thursday, and as I said, if mom is there – so is her salsa!

IMG_8035Mom had been to Mi Pueblo Supermarket in Pelham earlier in the day to pick up her salsa ingredients.  The most prominent items were the 20 or so Roma tomatoes she had all washed and cleaned in a silver colander.  She immediately began cutting them up and chopping them into small pieces.

As she chopped, I asked her about the recipe and where it came from.  She reminded me about a time about 15 years ago when we went to dinner at the home of a young woman I had met a work who was of Mexican decent.  Her mother lived with her and she had cooked up a huge spread of wonderful Mexican food for all the guests.  Mom reminded me that she watched the mother make salsa that day and how delicious it was and how she wanted to recreate the recipe for our family.  After the evening with our friends, she came home and talked to my dad about the salsa and ingredients.  She said to me, “After we got married, your dad taught me how to cook, PERIOD!”  (My mind flashed back to our Christmas eve enchiladas…but I’ll leave that for another blog post.)  So, naturally she wanted to run the ingredients by him and get his stamp of approval.  Then, she went on to add her own personal touches and “Barb Zuniga’s Salsa” was born!

IMG_8064After chopping up all the tomatoes, mom chopped up 2 medium-sized sweet Vidalia onions and added them to the tomato mix.  Next, she chopped up about 1-1/2 bunches of cilantro and mixed it in – oh my…that stuff smells soooo good!

She then opened 1 can of Hatch Chopped green chiles mild (4 oz. can) and 1 (3.3 oz.) can of La Costeña Green Chiles – diced, and added them to the bowl stirring everything together.

Next she started adding a pinch of this and a dash of that…and that when I said to her “you’re cooking the old-fashioned way!  I need some more specifics here!”  She slowed down and said, “yes, I guess you could say you need to add about 1/4 teaspoon of salt (as she sprinkled salt over the mixture from the container) and about 1 teaspoon of garlic.  Next she squeezed about 1 tablespoon of lemon juice over the mix.  And finally, about a tablespoon and a 1/2 of sugar “to give it the right flavor!”

IMG_8068As I took pictures of the proceedings, I couldn’t wait to grab a tortilla chip and sample the salsa.  We both did and it tasted perfect to me.  Mom wasn’t convinced and said “needs a little more salt” and proceeded to sprinkle a bit more salt into the bowl.  She said “you gotta have that kick but also a little sweet taste!”  We sampled again…more perfection and deliciousness…

She quickly filled 2-1/2 Ball Mason jars with the salsa.  Once we open these jars on Thanksgiving day, the flavors will have blended together so well that I don’t think we’ll be able to keep the family away from the salsa and chip bowl!

There are many salsa recipes out there but I have to say…my mom’s recipe is my favorite!


Mom chops up the cilantro for the salsa mix.


Mom mixes in the cilantro to the chopped Roma tomatoes.

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Mom poses with the finished product…3 jars of her famous salsa!




Sugar Skull PJs, Nick & Nora and Target

This is the time of year when I break out my Day of the Dead sugar skull PJs!

IMG_7282I saw these adorable and Nick & Nora Brand PJs at Target several years ago and fell in love!!!  Had to have them…but…could only find a size small nightgown at my local Target.  Well, I don’t know about you, but I HAVE to have a lot of room in my PJs and so a large is my preference…even an XL feels good to lounge around and sleep in and be comfy.  So, I hit up every Target in the area to find a larger size of these cute PJs.  And at the time, that was about 3 stores total!

I eventually found a medium gown and bought it.  Much to my surprise, at my annual cookie exchange party, my sweet friend Denise Koch gave me a sugar skull gown as a Christmas gift!  She said she saw it at Target and immediately thought of me!  So score for TWO sugar skull gowns!!!  (I have such great friends!!!)


IMG_7284The next year, Target carried sugar skull PJs again.  This time coordinated pants and tops, and of course, I went to all the stores looking again.  My husband even got into the act and would stop at Targets when we were traveling out-of-town to help me look.  That year I even found Sugar Skull slippers!

I’ve accumulated quite a few gowns, pants, and tops over the past few years, and in addition to being quite comfy, they are very colorful.  I always see someone wearing these PJs at the Bare Hands Gallery Day of the Dead festival in downtown Birmingham each year.  So…it’s clear I’m not the only one who loves this design and theme!

Target hasn’t carried them for several years now…probably because Nick & Nora label hasn’t made them in a while.  Maybe they are taking a brief break and will come back with a new design one day soon.  I’m hopeful!!!  Would love to see a new design to add to my collection!  Plus, a few of mine are starting to show a little wear!  Fingers crossed for next year!


What Exactly Is Day of the Dead?

IMG_7272Several years ago, I was co-teaching an 8 week Spanish language and culture class.  For the first 15 minutes of each class, I would give the students a look into various aspects of Mexican culture.  This one particular class was right before the local Bare Hands Gallery Day of the Dead festival.  So, I thought the timing was perfect to share the information and invite the class to come out and experience Day of the Dead, Birmingham style!

A few heads in the room nodded as I began to explain Day of the Dead – Día de los Muertos – but for the most part, I saw confused faces…clearly more explanation was needed.  That’s when it hit me and I said.. “How many of you have ever been to decoration day at your church?”  Light bulbs started to go off around the room… “well, Day of the Dead is like the Mexican version of this!”  And suddenly…everyone was nodding and smiling!

IMG_7275One of the questions I got that day was about how similar Day of the Dead (DOD)  seemed to be to Halloween – how maybe it was the Mexican version of Halloween.  But that couldn’t be further from the truth.  DOD is a celebration of life.  It has nothing to do with witches, goblins, spiders and spider webs.  It is a time to remember our loved one who have passed on.  It doesn’t celebrate death, but it DOES celebrate the lives of our ancestors.

IMG_7276So what are all the sugar skull skeletons about then?  If you look at the traditional Halloween skull vs. the Day of the Dead sugar skull, you’ll notice a definite difference in their expressions – one is a bit menacing while the other has a pleasant expression and is very colorful.  Sugar skulls or “Calaveras,” represent a departed soul and back in the 18th century, the names of the departed were written on the forehead of the skull and placed on the home altar or the gravestone to honor the return of that person’s spirit.

Offerings, or “ofrendas,” are also a part of the celebration.  These are items that were important to the deceased loved one and could be food, drink, a special artifact.  During the class, I asked if they had ever seen tokens or items at local cemeteries and several people said yes.  For instance, teddy bears or special floral arrangements.  So explaining “ofrendas” made more sense when put in those terms.

IMG_7274Speaking of flowers, the flower used for Day of the Dead is the orange marigold, the cempasúchil flower.  It was the flower that the Aztecs used to remember their dead by.  The color is so vibrant and the belief is that it would guide the souls to their homes and altars on this special day.

DOD takes place over two days and coincides with the Catholic All Saints’ Day and all Souls’ Day on November 1 and 2.  November 1 is the day for honoring children and infants or “angelitos,” while November 2 is the day for honoring deceased adults.  If you are in Mexico during the first two days of November, there is no mistaking the power of this holiday.  In Birmingham, Alabama…it is growing in recognition and in the number of people who want to take part in remembrance.

At the end of the class, many of the students stayed to talk more and ask more questions.  I loved being able to share more about DOD and show photos I had taken of the local festival.  Several remarked about how beautiful the altars were and how artistic some people were in their presentations.  One lady remarked how heartfelt it all seemed and thought about trying to create an altar of her own the following year.

I know I saw several of the students at the festival a few weeks later and that made me smile…