The Day of the Dead crept into Harbourfront this past weekend

The city of Toronto has grown to celebrate many multicultural events, one being the two-day Mexican celebration known as the Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos in Spanish.

The Harbourfront Centre Day of the Dead festival featuring live music.

Every year the Harbourfront Centre hosts its rendition of the Day of the Dead festival, presented by Scotiabank. Taking place from Nov. 5 to Nov. 6, the event celebrates with live music, dance performances, art installations and traditional Mexican cuisine.

The Harbourfront Centre’s Day of the Dead festival is family oriented. Their contemporary take on the event ensures that there are activities for the entire family to enjoy. Events vary from face painting for the kids to an entertaining interpretation of death using puppets titled Post Mortem by Mexico’s Colectivo Cuerda Floja for the adults.

The Mexican Day of the Dead celebration commemorates the lives of those who have passed on.

Sound familiar?

That’s because the tradition is similar, but not comparable, to what Catholics describe as All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day.

The overall objective is to celebrate those who have died. This is done in two ways: an altar and the ofrenda (tribute). The altar typically consists of a photo of the deceased, candles and fake skulls – which represent death. The ofrenda – otherwise known as offerings – are a collection of things the deceased person enjoyed while they were alive: their favourite mementos, foods and water.

Engagement amongst the different communities in Toronto is important when it comes to multicultural events. Day of the Dead participant Marcia Weftson felt encouraged to learn more about the different traditions that occur after Halloween.

“I live in such a diverse city and it wasn’t until I heard about this event that I really pushed myself to get out there to learn how different the Latin American celebration was from All Souls’ and All Saints’ Day,” Weftson said.

Artistic coordinator Luis Rojas of Toronto’s Casa Maiz, a Mexican-Canadian community centre, said he’s concerned that other venues in Toronto aren’t delivering the important message of the tradition to non-Mexican communities.

“I’m happy that it’s happening in different venues like the Harbourfront Centre because it is a strong venue,” Rojas said. “I’m glad they are using the space to have the Day of the Dead celebration, but I’m a little bit worried if they are doing a good job of delivering the information in the proper way to people who don’t know much about the tradition.”

The Casa Maiz’s Day of the Dead event – which took place on Oct. 29 at Wychwood Barns – focused on the elements of cultural significance. They start their event with a sacred fire and celebrate the deceased with offerings at the altar. According to Rojas, 50 per cent of the guests who attend are Mexican and the other 50 per cent are made up of different cultures and ethnicities.  

Toronto is known for being one of the most diverse cities in the world. The opportunities to learn, understand and enjoy different cultures, traditions and celebrations are endless.

“It’s so important to have other cultures learn about this celebration because it empowers our situation as minorities and as immigrants,” Rojas said. “The culture is alive and it’s changing constantly. It’s a beautiful way to exchange and share our traditions.”

The Harbourfront Centre Day of the Dead festival. From Nov. 5 – Nov. 6 this free event explores the Mexican celebration of life and legacy.

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