On Monday Oct. 31, Drew’s Spanish department held a combination class registration open house and Día de los Muertos celebration in Brothers College Room 103.
Día de los Muertos is often conflated with Halloween, due to the short span of days in which they both occur and some similar symbolism and themes having to do with death. However, the two are not each other’s equivalent. Día de los Muertos is a Mexican holiday with Aztec roots that, over time and as a result of colonization, became somewhat merged with the Catholic traditions of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. Halloween, on the other hand, is a celebration that hails from the British Isles and has its roots in the Irish Celtic tradition of Samhain, merged with All Saint’s Day (also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas in Middle English) and All Souls’ Day. So while they share Catholic influence, their respective strong roots in Aztec and Celtic traditions make them distinctly different holidays with different meanings, histories and celebrations.
Día de los Muertos is celebrated to remember and honor family members who have passed and make sure their lives and stories are remembered by the following generations. Families will construct ofrendas—altars constructed to honor deceased family members—and present gifts to the dead, such as favorite foods, at their graves. Some commonly recognized symbols of the holiday include marigolds, which are meant to guide the dead to the ofrendas their families have prepared for them, and calaveras (the spanish word for “skulls”), which are beautifully decorated in bright and colorful patterns and are sometimes made of sugar as a special treat.
The event held by the Spanish department did its best to represent some of those well-known aspects of the holiday, offering coloring sheets of calaveras for students and several sweet treats, including hot chocolate, which also stems from Aztec culture—though their version was much more spicy and bitter than ours is today.
And, of course, it was also a course registration open house, so professors helped students who attended pick potential classes for next semester from a helpful handout of all the Spanish classes being offered in the spring. The atmosphere was welcoming and carried an excited air. The room was pleasantly full with the crowd that attended.
Professor Maria Turrero-Garcia, who organized the event, talked about the main goals of hosting open houses. She said, “First of all, we want to get all of our students together. We want to make sure we have a good network of students who know each other so they are able to support each other for anything they need. We also want to make sure that that network includes the faculty, so we want to make sure we get to know our students in a more informal setting. Because in class sometimes students might shy away from talking to us as much, but at an event like this, everyone’s having fun, it’s all very relaxed, so it’s easier to breach that barrier. And I think students appreciate it. We definitely do, we love getting to talk to them and know them a little bit outside of class. And then, also, it’s fun, and the food is delicious!”
This was her first time organizing the event, and it was certainly a great success! If you are interested in learning more about opportunities in the Spanish department at Drew, you can contact department head Raúl Rosales at firstname.lastname@example.org and be on the lookout for more wonderful events like this!