Underneath the vibrant papel picado banners, Samford students bob and weave amongst the crowd of revellers to get a better view of elaborate altars to the dead. Flickering candle light illuminates the colorful altars decorated with aged photographs, marigold petals and personal mementos such as drumsticks and typewriters. As the mouth-watering aroma of sizzling meat and fresh churros wafts into the square, the students are faced with a challenge: how to see and experience everything they possibly can.
On Nov. 2, Samford students celebrated Día de los Muertos in a collaboration between Samford Spanish Club, International Club and the Latino Student Organization.
According to National Geographic, Día de los Muertos is a holiday celebrated across Latin America, but primarily in Mexico, with origins in Aztec traditions and Catholic observances. Staples of the festival include baking pan de muerto, building altars for loved ones, and decorating with calaveras, or skulls.
Treasurer of the Latino Student Organization Paola Marquez-Valdez explained how, contrary to popular belief, Día de los Muertos is a celebration of life, not death.
“For some people, it’s a celebration of the lives of their passed loved ones and memories of them, or it’s about having their spirit able to be there and share that with them,” Marquez-Valdez said. “Most of us do see it as a remembrance celebration of their past lives.”
The Samford celebration began with students meeting on the Quad at 4 p.m. for snacks as members of LSO painted attendee’s faces like skulls in preparation for the night’s events. After getting ready, the students carpooled to Pepper Place in downtown Birmingham to attend a larger celebration.
The Spanish Club has hosted this event before, but this is the first year that LSO has contributed. Marquez-Valdez shared that LSO wanted to incorporate face painting as an aspect of cultural education, and because it’s a tradition for some members of the organization.
“Face painting is a big thing. It’s something that I grew up doing, and something that we wanted to bring here,” Marquez-Valdez said. “People are far away from their families and they’re not having that possibility to continue to celebrate these special days. Since they’re not there with them, I think it’s kind of nice to bring a little bit of something here for them.”
This year’s event was a partnership with three different organizations on campus. International Club President Edward Garner discussed how all three clubs worked together to make the Día de los Muertos event a reality.
“Originally, it was just going to be I-Club and Spanish Club, but then we got the students from the Latino Student Organization involved. We sat down, just kind of talked through some of the details and had a meeting about who was bringing what,” Garner said.
After face painting, The Spanish Club and the International Club took over the night’s festivities. The first 20 students to sign up for the Samford event received free tickets to the downtown celebration courtesy of the International Club. Students carpooled to Pepper Place and after getting through the gate were free to roam the courtyard.
There were many colorful altars, or ofrendas, erected in the square dedicated to commemorating the lives of the deceased. Each altar introduced attendees to the deceased through photographs, personal objects such as dog tags and golf clubs, and even some of their favorite foods.
“I hadn’t been to one of those before and it was super cool. There were a lot of different masks and face paintings. They had people selling clothes and jewelry and food, so you got to see a lot of that too,” Garner said. “I thought it was really cool.”
Both the International Club and the Latino Student Organizations have events planned for International Education Week from Nov. 15-19. For more information about these events, visit their Instagrams, @samfordiclub and @sam.lso.