Families attend to altars that invited the dead to return and visit during Dia de los Muertos at the Moab Valley Multicultural Center. (Courtesy Moab Valley Multicultural Center)

Dia de los Muertos may be Spanish for “Day of the Dead”, but it is a day to celebrate life.

The Moab Valley Multicultural Center (MVMC) invites everyone to celebrate the day with song, dance and food.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to connect with another culture. The desire to honor your loved ones is a tradition that resonates with us all,” said Nicole Shelnut, MVMC director.

Dia de los Muertos is a fusion of Aztec religious beliefs and the Catholic All Saints’ Day holiday. It is celebrated in the first week of November throughout Mexico and large parts of Latin America. The modern-day expression of these holidays celebrates life and honors souls who are no longer with us.

“There is a stark difference between Anglo and Latino culture regarding the acceptance of death,” said Megan de Mateo, VISTA volunteer at MVMC.

This is de Mateo’s first experience with Dia de los Muertos. As she has assisted in planning the celebration she has been learning about the symbolism and how it is a day to remember those who have passed.

She is being taught by Leticia Bentley, the outreach director for the multicultural center. She was the first person to bring it to Moab.

“She is the one who takes the time to explain the significance,” de Mateo said.

She learned that marigolds, the flower of the dead, symbolize the light that leads the way for the spirits to the earth.

The colors purple and orange are present: Purple representing death and orange representing life.

“When the two are linked it symbolizes the link between the dead and living world,” de Mateo said. “It is day to celebrate their life and accept their death,” she said.

A traditional Mexican graveyard will be displayed the week prior to the event so that visitors may learn about Día de los Muertos traditions. The MVMC will also accept donations from those who would like the staff to create a traditional tomb or altar for them.

The altars are built to invite those who have died to return home and visit loved ones. Favorite food and drink are offered to the dead for refreshment. Photos, clothing and favorite items the dead person enjoyed while alive are placed lovingly. Candles are lit to welcome the spirits to the altar.

“You have to be happy when the spirits come back,” Shelnut said. “Don’t worry, don’t be fearful. It is a way bringing peace to those who have passed and those who are mourning.”

Shelnut said last year a half-eaten apple would be placed on one of the altars, in remembrance of a woman who eat just half an apple.

“You place whatever your loved ones favorite items were,” Shelnut said. “We change the food every night. Spiritually, you can’t leave out moldy food.”

The Multicultural Center will offer a buffet of authentic Mexican food, live music and entertainment.

The MVMC is hosting a Día de los Muertos celebration as a way to give back to the community by raising funds to support its many social services.

Proceeds from Día de los Muertos will be used to fund the many programs offered at the MVMC.

“There is a little bit of a misconception that we’re a living museum,” Shelnut said. “As much as we love the events, the events are a fundraiser. We are here to serve the community, and to keep those services available.”

Donations and tickets sales allow the Multicultural Center to continue vital operations and expand existing programs. It provides services including counseling and advocacy, language classes, emergency food and medical relief, and a mentoring program for at-risk teens.

The services at the MVMC reach a client base of about 500 people annually, ranging from children to adults.

The MVMC is now in the process of expanding the Teen and Family program in order to offer our community’s youth the counseling and academic support they need. Other goals for the year include adding more staff hours to the payroll, and creating a community space that pays tribute to the concept of a traditional Latin American plaza.

Achievement of these goals relies on the attendance of the public. All proceeds from the event will go directly to MVMC programs, and thus, back to the Moab community.

The price includes food, entertainment, and many activities for adults and children alike. There will also be opportunities to enter a raffle to win one of several great prizes.