Lost but Not Forgotten

Petaluma's El Dia de los Muertos honors and remembers


Flickering candles, rafts of flowers and grinning skulls adorn the town of Petaluma as the Petaluma Arts Council plays host to its 10th annual Dia de los Muertos celebration for all of October.

A day of reflection as much as of celebration, El Dia de los Muertos can be traced back to the Aztec festival honoring the goddess of the underworld. Modern celebrations incorporate traditional elements such as visiting the graves of deceased friends and family members and leaving trinkets for them, making meals in their honor and writing poetry about them.

In Petaluma, the event is not only about remembering and celebrating lost loved ones, it also about cross cultural sharing and connections. “It’s been a collaborative effort between the Latino and Anglo and community in Petaluma for these 10 years,” says event organizer Marjorie Helm.

Over the last decade, Petaluma’s Dia de los Muertos has grown and evolved from a small event into the massive celebration it is today. “We started out with probably five altars around town and about five events or activities that were happening during a one-week period,” Helm says. “We’re now up to over 20 events over and period of a month and 70 venues where there are altars in Petaluma.”

The month-long fest features workshops where participants can learn to make their own altars or decorate their own sugar skulls. Dance performances, storytelling and a traditional candlelight procession allow attendees to be a part of an ancient tradition while remembering their own lost loved ones. There are different activities and events on every weekend throughout October, beginning with the opening of art exhibits at several downtown and culminating in an El Dia de los Muertos worship service at Petaluma’s Unitarian Universalist Church on Oct. 31. Service attendees are encouraged to bring a photograph or memento of a lost loved one.

Petaluma’s El Dia de los Muertos celebrates and remembers from Oct.1-Nov. 7, various locations, Petaluma. www.petalumaartscenter.org.