Noche de Altares keeps loved ones alive by embracing death
Día de los Muertos is an observance that honors our ancestors and, in a way, death itself. But Milwaukee was very much alive last week for Noche de Altares, an event organized by the Urban Ecology Center and Escuela Verde that was a testament to life.
The animated evening started with dancing and drumming, including a step-by-step lesson on Aztec dance that symbolizes the connection with nature and the four elements. The night also included Baile folklórico (“folkloric dance”), food trucks, flower-making and a traditional Mexican papel picado craft station.
The Day of the Dead holiday traces its earliest roots to what is now central Mexico and the Aztec people, who used skulls to honor the dead. This was actually thousands of years before Day of the Dead celebrations emerged.
When Spanish explorers conquered the Aztec empire in the 16th century, the Catholic Church moved indigenous celebrations and rituals honoring the dead throughout the year to church-approved dates on Nov. 1 and 2. In these ceremonies, people create ofrendas in their homes, offering their loved ones candles, photos from their lives and items of remembrance they left behind
For this episode of Uniquely Milwaukee, I went to Noche de Altares with one question: “If you’re honoring a loved one, do you have a story you would like to share?” I also had a detailed conversation with my colleague, Alma Velez, to discuss the importance of Día de los Muertos, how she introduced the topic of death to her children and the process of creating her ofrenda at Radio Milwaukee.