The Arts Council of Princeton and Princeton Shopping Center will serve as the hosts to the annual Day of the Dead celebration on Nov. 2 from 3-5 p.m. in the Princeton Shopping Center.
Put on for the last 20 years, the event will feature trolling mariachis, sugar skull decorating, face painting, folk arts and crafts, refreshments and food for children and families.
“It started with me; I wanted to bring [the event] to Princeton,” said Maria Evans, artistic director for the Arts Council of Princeton. “A couple of members in my family are Mexican, so I started learning about the Day of the Dead. I was working here and I proposed that we started to do this event in our old building. The very first year that we held the event, we had everything up in our old theater – we had music, we had food, we had art and artmaking. Unbeknownst to us, all of these people came.”
Now with turnouts between 400-500 people, the annual event is something that many locals look forward to each year.
“We want them to appreciate the arts and crafts of another culture,” she said. “It’s one of those events you go to where you walk away smiling. You meet these people there – all kinds of people – and it’s really diverse and everyone can take something away from the event.”
Day of the Dead is observed throughout the world at this time of year (in connection with Halloween and All Souls’ Day), where family and friends gather to remember and honor those who have died.
When Evans went to Mexico last year, she observed families spending time at cemeteries – cleaning headstones, lighting candles, eating picnics at their own family members’ plots – they were honoring their deceased members by spending time with them.
“When the people come and attend these events, we have signs at each activity to show why they are taking part in the event,” she said. “We try to explain as much as we can, we try to include education in the event. We want to let people know that other cultures might look at the passing of a family member differently than we do.”
The event is about death, but it is a happy and festive holiday.
“We always build a very authentic altar each year,” she said. “The altar is very traditional and that is the way the Mexican people honor and remember their dead. They build an altar and put up photographs of the people who have passed before them.”
Veronica Olivares, who helps with the event each year, met Evans at the inaugural Day of the Dead festival about 20 years ago. The two now work hand-in-hand creating new activities and bringing back some old favorites.
“We decorate sugar skulls, which is a very typical thing to do at the Day of the Dead,” Evans said. “We make our own, too. Children can come, they get a sugar skull and they can decorate it with all of these colored icings that we make. Then they can take that home with them.”
This year, new arts and crafts have been added to the day’s festivities; one of them being creating monarch butterflies out of paper. The monarch butterfly leaves the United States each year to fly back to Mexico for the Day of the Dead.
In addition to the monarchs, children will have the opportunity to craft new objects, as well.
“This year, we’ll be having nichos,” Evans said. “Children will be receiving cigar boxes and almost making a diorama with a Mexican theme. Whether it’s a portrait of a Mexican artist or a person from their history, they can decorate them with pom-poms or flowers.”
This year’s Day of the Dead festival will take place on Saturday, Nov. 2 from 3-5 p.m. in the Princeton Shopping Center, 301 N Harrison St., Princeton. For more information, visit www.artscouncilofprinceton.org.