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The Harvard Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology held an event featuring arts and crafts and Mariachi musical performances to celebrate the Día de los Muertos holiday Thursday.
The event treated attendees to traditional Latin American food to honor the lives of loved ones, including hot chocolate and pan de muerto — a traditional bread signifying the cycle of life.
Perforated paper banners known as papel picado were draped across the museum, and attendees had the opportunity to decorate sugar skulls and make tissue paper marigold flowers, papel picado banners, and papier-mache creations.
According to Edith Julieta Sarmiento-Ponce, an instructor at the Harvard Extension School who sang at the event, the marigold flowers crafted by attendees are believed to guide the dead along the path from their resting place to visit the living on earth.
“What they believe is that they would find their way because of the smell, and also the bright color,” Sarmiento-Ponce said.
“It’s the scent that’s supposed to guide them,” she added.
Mariachi Véritas de Harvard, the student mariachi band, and Ballet Folklórico de Aztlán, a traditional Mexican dance group, performed songs and dances to welcome the souls of the dead at the event.
Sarmiento-Ponce lauded Peabody for its “authentic” representation of Día de los Muertos and for educating Harvard affiliates and Cambridge residents about the cultural significance of the day.
The event also featured an altar, which family members traditionally build and decorate to honor the memories of their loved ones.
“The first time that I came here and I saw the altar, I was extremely happy and was extremely honored that Harvard shared the culture,” Sarmiento said.
Museum volunteers decorated the altar with pictures, food, personal items, marigolds, Mexican figurines, and art.
“The altar is something that we do every year in Mexico and Guatemala and some other Latin American countries to basically remember and celebrate the diversity,” said Marcos Cruz, who volunteered at the event.
According to Cruz, the decorations are colorful to represent the “joy” associated with honoring the dead and celebrating life.
“It’s about life,” he said. “We also have the pictures of our loved ones. We also have these little skulls, which are supposed to represent them.”
Some attendees said that the educational aspect of the event was important to them.
Taft L. Foley ’26, who attended to support a friend performing at the event, said he enjoyed learning about the holiday.
“I was really happy to have the chance to learn at all and be exposed to other cultures around the world,” Foley said.
“I’d love if they were to do something like that again in the future. I’d definitely go again,” he added.
Cruz said many people misunderstand the significance of Día de los Muertos, which he said is “often equated to things like Halloween.”
“There’s just a bunch of misconceptions about it,” he said. “A lot of people in this country have lost contact with the culture, and some of them really want to reconnect with that, too.”
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