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Families honor loved ones on "Dia de los Muertos"

WHEAT RIDGE - Under crisp fall skies, surrounded by the graves of hundreds of people, Maria Vera tried to channel her father by donning his old hat and suit.
Dia de los Muertos

WHEAT RIDGE - Under crisp fall skies, surrounded by the graves of hundreds of people, Maria Vera tried to channel her father by donning his old hat and suit.

"That's why I dressed up like Dad and I'm kind of like "dead Dad," she said with a chuckle.

"Dia de los Muertos," or Day of the Dead, is a time when families in Central and South America honor loved ones who have passed away. Vera set up an altar of remembrance for her dad at Olinger Crown Hill Cemetery in Wheat Ridge. The altar honors his death with all the things he loved in life.

"Favorite readings. Always loved to read," she said, as she pointed to several of his books. "Recipe books. Fruits, always."

Her father was a native of Peru, who emigrated with his wife and children in the late 1950s to Leadville.

"It's a clay pot," Vera said, as she pointed to it on the altar. "I remember in the airport, he was carrying it on his lap, just to bring it to have one here and to cook in it."

The roots of "Dia de los Muertos" trace back to a holiday Aztecs in Mexico celebrated in honor of a goddess. When Spaniards brought Christianity to Mexico, the holiday merged with All Saints Day to become what we know of it today.

"Traditionally, families would come out to the cemetery and they would decorate their loved ones marker with beautiful flowers, offerings of fresh fruits and vegetables and bread – kind of things they would need or want in the afterlife," said Monique Ramirez, a funeral director at the cemetery.

The celebration includes the creation of sugar masks in the shape of skulls, which are decorated and known as "Calaveras." There is also the presence of Marigolds, the traditional flower used to honor the dead on this day.

"Every culture has their way of honoring their loved ones who have passed," said Mike Skolaut, Olinger Crown Hill Mortuary and Cemetery's General Manager.

The celebration was something shared among those at the cemetery's celebration, no matter where they came from.

"From the High Andes of Peru to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado," Vera said.

In addition to Latin America, Day of the Dead celebrations have spread to other places around the world, including Eastern Europe and the Philippines.

(© 2015 KUSA)

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