Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 25, 2010

Parade will mark Day of the Dead

By Carol South
Special to the Record-Eagle

TRAVERSE CITY — Drummers in black and dancers in white will lead a Day of the Dead Parade on Halloween.

The Traverse City chapter of Public Urban Ritual Experiment (PURE) is hosting a El Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration, a multi-cultural festival with roots in the Aztec and Mexican traditions.

The local gathering may be more subdued than the rambunctious celebrations where the festival is a long-standing practice. However, there will be "a little bit of dancing," noted Amira Hamzer, co-facilitator of the local PURE chapter.

"I thought that it was just a perfect way to give back to the community and a way anybody in the community can come and honor their ancestors," said Hamzer, a Kalkaska resident who co-facilitates the local PURE chapter with Dede Alderman. "We're not doing the full on version, we're doing a version that is more amenable to our locale."

Attendees to the event, which will begin at Oakwood Cemetery, are encouraged to wear costumes and bring candles as well as mementos of deceased loved ones. The candlelight procession will walk to the Boardman River, where beeswax candles will be launched in a sparkling flotilla.

"There is a gal in our chapter who makes handmade beeswax candles so she made some floating candles — real beeswax so they're not going to pollute the environment," Hamzer said. "They'll be really pretty because by the time we get down to the river it will be twilight."

The merging of the Aztec and Spanish cultures launched the Day of the Dead celebrations. The Aztecs believed that the annual monarch butterfly migration each fall brought souls of the dead back. When Spanish conquistadors introduced Christian observances to the region — including All Souls Eve and All Saints Day or All Souls Day — the traditions merged and El Dia de los Muertos celebrations took root.

Today the festivities feature feasting, costumes, decorations and parades throughout Mexico, South America and, with some modifications, in Texas. Generally, people enjoy a big party until midnight and then go to midnight Mass.

"Around here, I would assume the average person would not be familiar with it," Hamzer said.

Local event organizers hope the Day of the Dead parade will offer a meaningful alternative to typical candy-and-costume Halloween activities.

"I'm excited about bringing a deeper level of understanding about Halloween and our ancestors," said Alderman of Maple City. "Bringing deeper meaning to our holidays, not just consumerism — that's what I'm about."

Founded in New York City in 2004, the concept of PURE is to take dance and music to the people and introduce participants to things they might not otherwise encounter in their daily lives. The Traverse City chapter may be grounded in the smallest city — other locations include Chicago and Los Angeles — but members are very active; a previous event this year was a midsummer solstice procession.

"It's just a different way of helping the community through music and dance," Alderman said.