If you happened to find yourself walking down Wilmington Street last weekend then you saw quite a sight. Participants gathered for a run while others walked from Centro Mexican Restaurant and Tequila Bar Downtown Raleigh for the Day of the Dead 5k. This footloose race included some fancy costumes and makeup in the form of adorable sugar skull children, brightly colored fairy women, ghoulish 80’s rock band members and other creative costumes. The day finished with a welcoming costume contest, live music, food and gorgeous art created by an array of artists.
There is no physical prowess to show in this race, but rather a fun community event that is runner/walker friendly, keeping the four-legged friends and children in mind. But another aspect of this celebration is the sweet fact that the Day of the Dead 5k benefits the Brentwood Boys and Girls Club of Raleigh. An organization known for helping children through many educational and fun after school programs, BBGC of Raleigh strives to promote healthy lifestyles, academic success, good character and citizenship by encouraging physical education, tutoring and mentoring. If you grew up in the 90’s then you probably saw a bunch of commercials endorsed by celebrities about the importance of giving back to the community by volunteering your time to this place.
And in Raleigh, the locals caught the volunteer bug as traffic controllers, race day breakdown crew and chummy cheerleaders while sporting gear in bright fall colors. Just in time to celebrate a holiday that although may not be as well known as Halloween, still manages to captivate quite a crowd. Director Pepe Caudillo reflects that this day holds significant meaning and the sense of tradition cannot be forgotten. Also known as El Dia de los Muertos, the beginning of this holiday is traceable to as far as hundreds of years ago with the Aztecs. Seeing how death is a natural part of life, rituals grew to celebrate family members’ departure and honoring the gods. With the arrival of the Spaniards, the tradition received an immersion of European elements. Soon, the Day of the Dead moved South and some Central American countries adopted it. Now, it is a beloved holiday in the United States that seems to coincide with Halloween.
The difference between the two is that the prior honors the dead. A Table of Remembrance known as Ofrendas (one can be found by Centro and the other at Oakwood) is set up with offerings and installations designed to help souls on the first two days of November to enjoy their favorite food, drink, personal object, etc… Decorations vary from flowers, fruit, candles, paper art and pictures of the dead. A familiar object is the sugar skull (also known as calavera), a confectionary with vibrant colors often seen on ofrendas. Signifying the soul of a loved one, these beautiful candies can be found with happy smiles whilst names of loved ones can be written on their foreheads or simply decorated in neon foil, pastel swirls, glittery dots and more. Smaller skulls represents children as bigger and more ornate ones are for adults.
“Over the years, it has become richer and more amazing than the Aztecs every thought which is great!”
Caudillo shares that the celebrations make him feel philosophical about life since he often ponders about life and death. He also finds the idea of dedicating a special time to remember loved ones as something wonderful.
“It is a way to stay in contact with those we don’t see but we still feel. They still make us cry, laugh and feel alive even though they are dead. I think this is a powerful festivity since it is about something that no one can stop, but it can be assimilated into a positive, constructive, colorful and fun way.”
The inspiration for this race and street festival which is in its fifth year started through a collaboration with the Centro owner, Angela Salamanca. Ask anyone who has ever lost someone and they will tell you that you want to remember those tender moments that makes you remember their love. Salamanca lost someone near to her, a sister named Margarita 12 years ago this October. But she chooses to celebrate her life through a holiday that commemorates her life.
“It is precisely a way to celebrate those who have a past and in a way that is not sad or heavy. There is a beautiful energy–loud and vibrant. It represents the holiday. There needs to be a role for mourning and life. It is an opportunity for celebration rather than a death anniversary, which is heavy I think.”
And great opportunities have been created. Going along with the lightheartedness of things, it is hard to believe that it was only five years ago, Salamanca came to Caudillo about raising money for BBGC of Raleigh. Each year has seen an increase in success and community involvement. Now, the hopes for this year’s race is to generate money to beat last year’s $12,000 mark and Caudillo hopes to surpass that with $15,000. As an effort to raise more money for this non-profit organization, Salamanca organized the All Saints Day or El dia De Los Santos Storytelling Supper on November 1st at 7:00 pm. Hosted in the Mausoleum at Oakwood, guests were guaranteed a front seat to the old fashioned art of storytelling and live music all while enjoying delicious eats and refreshments from Centro, Fullsteam Brewery and Wine Authorities.
While today is the last day of the Day of the Dead festivities, a number of people will be honoring their loved ones with flowers, candles, presents, toys and more by their graves as they celebrate their lives.