Nicole Shelnut, the former director of the Moab Valley Multicultural Center, dances with Jose Tejada at the Day of the Dead celebration held last year. [Photo by Robert Magleby / Courtesy MVMC]

Katlyn Keane is looking forward to Dia De Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. The volunteer at the Moab Valley Multicultural Center has been making paper flowers since Oct. 14

“We need about 300 flowers to decorate the altars and tombs,” Keane said.

Twenty-six tombs have been reserved by family and friends to remember those who have departed this world.

The multicultural center’s annual Day of the Dead Festival will be held 2 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 3.

“The event will include live music, traditional dancing, kid’s activities, delicious food and more,” Keane said. “There will be a tent for children activities, pinatas and face painting.”

Floyd Humphreys, one of the multicultural center’s board members, said that there will be “fabulous music” during the entire event.

“There will be Ryan Barnum and a group of musicians. Mark Horowitz will pay his trumpet,” Humphreys said.

There will be Mexican and Bolivian dances. There will be children dances.

“At the end of the party, before we end the main event, we will have the Moab Community Dance Band,” Humphreys said. “Something is going on the stage at all times. Its not a set program. It’s an all day affair.”

And then there is the food.

There will be six food stations.

“There will be three different kinds of posole, chicken mole, pork chile verde, and tacos de birria – all cooked by Latino cooks,” said boardmember Marcia Tendick. “Then there are the desserts.”

“People need to realize, this is a total fiesta,” Humphreys said.

A community dance will follow celebration, with DJ Chulpes providing music from 6 to 9 p.m.

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.

It focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember the loved ones who have died. Traditions connected with the holiday include building private altars decorated with favorite foods, beverages and possessions of the departed.

This year the multicultural center accepted donations for the creation and decoration of tombs or altars as a way for community members to commemorate lost family members, friends or beloved pets. Twenty-six tombs have been reserved so far.

The paper flowers Keane and other volunteers having been making symbolize the relationship between life and death.

Orange plays a dominant role.

“Orange represents life and the earth,” said Leticia Bentley, the outreach coordinator for the multicultural center. “The color lights the paths for the spirits to come to their own altar.”

The marigold, also called the campasuchil, is the flower of choice.

There are other colors of flowers as well: purple represents pain, white for hope and pink for celebration.

Candles are also placed on the altars.

“The light of the candle is to illuminate the way for the dead upon their return,” Bentley said.

Other offerings, such as the deceased’s favorite foods and drinks, are placed on the tombs and altars.

The multicultural will be baking Pan de Muerto, Day of the Dead bread, to place on the tombs and altars. The plain round sweet bread is sprinkled with white sugar and criss-crossed with a bone shape on top.

A towel, soap and a small bowl are also put on the altar so returning spirits can wash their hands after a long trip. A small glass of water will also be placed to quench there thirst. Some family and friends will leave a bottle of beer or alcohol to help the dead remember good times of their life.

“The altars will stay up for a whole week after the party for people to visit night or day,” Humphreys said. “The candles will be lit in the evening. The whole garden will be lit with Christmas tree lights.”

The multicultural center hosts the 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.

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.