Sunday, May 20, 2018     Volume: 19, Issue: 11

Santa Maria Sun / Art

The following article was posted on October 23rd, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 33 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 14, Issue 33

Spend Dia de los Muertos in Santa Maria

Several local groups converge for a cultural festival to remember those who have passed to the other side


The Dia de los Muertos celebration at the Veterans Memorial Community Center and park will feature dancing by the Aztec dance troupe Grupo Xiuhcoatl.

None can say what awaits on the other side, but many believe that those who have passed are still with us in some way. Whether they live on through memories, effigy, or just in our hearts, the departed are never totally gone.

The Santa Maria Recreation and Parks Department and a coalition of local organizations are collaborating on a large cultural festival celebrating Dia de los Muertos and honoring deceased friends and family with vibrant art and activity.

“The Day of the Dead is a ritual that goes back thousands of years,” Santa Maria’s recreation supervisor Dennis Smitherman said. “It started as a celebration of life, and a lot of the cultures that celebrate the Day of the Dead believe the people who have passed are not gone, and that celebrating them is a way to keep them alive.”

The centerpiece of Dia de los Muertos is the altars people make for deceased loved ones they are celebrating. Though the event is scheduled for Nov. 3, the city will open the Veterans Memorial Community Center early on Nov. 2 to allow people to come in and build their altars the day before, as the traditional celebration lasts several days.

There will be a variety of kids’ activities at the event, including mask making for the Dia de los Muertos parade.

“People can build an altar on the second day, but it is really for remembering the one that is gone by bringing an offering to the altar,” Smitherman said. “On these altars, you will often see mementos, favorite foods, or favorite things. Some are real celebratory and some are more solemn and low-key.”

The city was originally approached to do this event by several local Spanish language media organizations including Que Pasa, El Compa, and Univision. The event now features cooperation from these organizations as well as the People for Leisure and Youth Inc. (PLAY Inc.), LULAC, and the Santa Maria-Bonita School District.

“Karen Dominguez, who works for the Santa Maria-Bonita School District, will be presenting arts and crafts activities for kids through LULAC,” Smitherman said. “Kids will be able to create a paper mask for the parade and decorate sugar skulls that they can take home with them.”

The parade—a tradition of Dia de los Muertos—will be led by a local Aztec dance troupe, Grupo Xiuhcoatl. Adorned in bright regalia, including face paint or masks, the dancers will lead the parade around the park across the street from the veterans memorial where kids and parents are welcome to join. Besides the dancers, the marimba bands and folklorico dancers from Santa Maria and Ernest Righetti high schools will be performing at the festivities.

The altars made in remembrance of loved ones are the centerpieces for any Dia de los Muertos celebration.

“We are really excited to have grown our entertainment over the last three years,” Smitherman said. “For us the highlight is always the Aztec dancers with their amazing dances, and the parade around the park is always fun.”

A Dia de los Muertos celebration is not complete without plenty of good food. Small plates and bowls can be found at the altars, with the offer usually being the favorite food of the departed. This event will also have food for the living.

“We have a variety of participants making food,” Smitherman said. “We will have traditional foods of the culture like tamales, menudo, and pozole, but we have some not-so-traditional food as well.”

He also explained that each food vendor will have a plate that is $5 or cheaper.

“We have about four or five different vendors selling different things, including baked goods,” he said, “but all the vendors will offer a family-friendly priced plate and I think that’s important.”

Join the celebration
The Santa Maria Recreation and Parks Department presents the annual Dia de los Muertos cultural festival event featuring music, dancing, kids’ activities, crafts, a parade, food, and displays on Nov. 3 from noon to 5 p.m. at the Veterans Memorial Community Center, 313 W. Tunnell St., Santa Maria. Children must be accompanied by a parent. More info: 925-0951, Ext. 260.

Whether you make it out for the remembrance, the celebration, the activities, or the food, the event is designed to be a culturally enriching experience. There will be many live performances of music, dance, and even some theater from across Mexico’s cultural landscape.

“This event is expanding culture to all kinds of Santa Maria residents,” Smitherman said. “There will be opportunities to learn about the tradition, the history, the altars, the dancers … so it’s a way to learn about the culture of a decent size of the population here in Santa Maria.”


Arts Editor Joe Payne is dying for some menudo. Contact him at

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