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Day of the Dead festivities blend cultures

El Dia de Los Muertos – The Day of the Dead – will entertain the living as it celebrates the departed at the 12th annual festival at Cheekwood Botanical Gardens.

People of all cultures will gather from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday to participate in El Dia de Los Muertos, a holiday and day of observance with roots in the ancient Aztec communities in Mexico.

From the sugar skulls and other skeletal images to the music, dance, crafts and food, the event captures much of the spirit of the festivities that will be observed in many Latin countries on Nov. 1-2.

“The event in its entirety … is an educational experience for those who are unfamiliar with Latin American culture,” said Hannah Baggott, Belmont junior and volunteer at El Dia de los Muertos for the past four years. “The most important part of El Día de los Muertos is the concept of community,”

The festival will have a mariachi band and traditional dance performances. There will also be interactive art booths where people can create things like Calaveras masks, a skeleton mask traditionally worn during a procession honoring deceased relatives, and “barriletes,” colorful kites traditionally flown in Guatemala.

An area will also be devoted to “papel cortado.”

“This is a traditional decoration, literally meaning ‘cut paper,’” Baggott said. “I usually compare it to the American ideal of cutting paper into snowflakes during winter; however, in Latin American culture, they use bright colors to celebrate and cut intricate designs.”

There will also be a “tapete” display and competition. Usually made with colored sand, tapetes (carpets) are a Day of the Dead tradition At Cheekwood, participants from eight local middle and high schools will use chalk to create large-scale murals to honor the deceased.

Food and art vendors will be set up in an open air market. Expect Nashville favorites like La Hacienda, Mas Tacos, Las Paletas, Conexión Américas, a local nonprofit that sells fair trade coffee, and more. Local artists will be selling handmade pieces and some imported goods.

The Nashville Public Library, Catholic Charities of Middle Tennessee, the YMCA Latino Achievers, and other area groups more are sponsoring altars, known as “ofrendas” set up in remembrance of loved ones.

“I believe that the entire event is a visual, cultural, musical, and sensational experience,” Baggott said.

Cheekwood Botanical Garden is located at 1200 Forrest Park Drive, Nashville, 37205. For information, see

– Hannah Hyde

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