Since 2000, Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles has been home to the largest Día de los Muertos celebration outside of Mexico, and I attended for the first time this year. For 2022, the festivities centered on Mayahuel, the Aztec goddess of fertility and the agave plant. There were separate daytime and nighttime events happening, and I went to the latter, Noche de los Muertos. It was an evening filled with beautiful performances, rituals, altars, and so much more.
The Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday that combines spiritual practices of the Nahua tribes and Catholic religious beliefs. It takes place on November 1st to honor the souls of children and the 2nd to remember the souls of adults. The natives’ traditions of commemorating the dead and death date back thousands of years, and when the Spaniards arrived in Mexico during the 16th century, these mixed with European customs. In efforts to cover up the celebration’s indigenous roots, the Catholic Church decided to create All Saints Day and All Souls Day on the same dates. However, the Mexican people have managed to balance ancient Nahua practices with Catholic beliefs to make El Día de los Muertos the special occasion it is today.
It was quite a night for me because I was also asked to do an Instagram takeover for the media site HipLatina to share highlights of the event with their audience. As soon as I approached the front gates of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, I was greeted by a stunning arch made of colorful marigolds and other decorative elements. The event was flooded with the living on the other side. As soon as I entered, I was immediately overwhelmed with all there was to absorb.
Many people had their faces painted like La Catrina, including myself. I went for a half living, half skeletal look, and it felt so uplifting and powerful to have my countenance painted in such a way. I must mention that I can’t take credit for my makeup; I was fortunate enough to have an artist do it for the occasion. It was fascinating to observe how elaborate certain individuals were dressed and made up. Every year, there’s a costume contest, so I’m sure some were competing for the winning title. One person whose work I admire and had the opportunity to meet was Loretta Vampz. The actress and model donned a stunning gown and headpiece, and her La Catrina makeup looked phenomenal. Some of you may recall she was featured in The Sixth Chamber’s music video for “Red Death Masquerade,” which I reviewed a few months ago.
The Hollywood Forever Cemetery is large and sprawled across 62 acres, so you can imagine there were many attractions spread throughout the grounds. The ofrenda (altar) is a central part of the Day of the Dead where families set up and decorate their altars with the photos of deceased loved ones, flowers, and food and drink items. The event features a huge exhibition of altars, and anyone is welcome to participate. It was apparent that those who chose to create an ofrenda to display spent many hours assembling them. There were avenues upon avenues filled with colorful, ornate set ups commemorating the memory of so many souls. Besides families, non-profit groups and organizations were also among those who joined in. One altar paid tribute to the matriarchs of families, and I stopped to write the name of my maternal grandmother on a paper boat and set it free upon the “river.”
There were art exhibits featuring the work of Mexican artists, such as Sabino Guisu. One of the exhibitions was held inside the beautiful ABC Mausoleum. There were also Aztec dance performances; live music on the main stage from musicians like Ed Maverick, Hermanos Gutiérrez and DJ Que Madre; plus culinary vendors serving up all kinds of authentic Mexican dishes, mezcal tastings and other delicacies.
Before I wrap up, I want to talk a bit about the daytime experience. I didn’t attend that one, but it typically happens from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. There are more activities geared toward children, different performers and other types of entertainment. The altars and artwork are still on display. The nighttime festivities took place from 5 p.m. to midnight, and each event requires separate tickets, which range from $35 to $50.
I can’t describe how much pride I felt taking part in a celebration that’s an integral part of my ancestry. I really want to make attending the Día del los Muertos event at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery an annual tradition. It’s such a special gathering of people coming together from all walks of life for the single purpose of honoring the souls who’ve gone before us. I’ll hold that night forever in my heart.
(Illustrations in the top image are by Mexican artist Brandon Maldonado.)