Celebrating souls: Winchester Cultural Center festival to mark Day of the Dead Nov. 1-2

Death is inevitable, but that does not mean it is something that should be feared. In Mexican culture, death is viewed as a normal part of life to be celebrated and respected. That is the idea behind Dia de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.

In order to bring the festivities to Las Vegas, the Winchester Cultural Center, 3130 McLeod Drive, is scheduled to present the 13th annual Life in Death: Day of the Dead Festival from 5 to 9 p.m. Nov. 1-2.

“Day of the Dead is the time when we remember our family or friends who have passed away,” said Irma Varela Wynants, founder of the festival. “Traditionally, people believed that the spirits of the departed would return to earth.”

The two-day festival is set to feature displays, an art exhibit, performances, crafts and food vendors to honor the dead and celebrate their mortal lives.

In addition, the festival will feature “ofrendas,” or offerings placed on altars by families, friends and others to preserve the memory of the deceased. The altars are typically adorned with sugar skulls and Cempasuchitl flowers, also known as marigolds.

“When people create the altars, they normally put food or drinks that the departed used to like, or their favorite shoes or clothes,” Varela Wynants said. “Everything had meaning.”

The offerings are left on the altar as a way to attract the souls to the festivities.

The altars will be displayed in Winchester Park and will be judged in three categories: Most Traditional, Most Creative and Best Theme. A $500 award will be presented in each category.

Readings of calaveras (skulls) will be performed throughout both days. The readings are best described as satirical poems written to commemorate people who are still alive.

According to Clark County’s website, the poems treat the menace of death with good-natured humor and offer a chance to poke fun at prominent celebrities and political figures. It said the traditional calavera is written as a memorial to its target, summing up the person’s life and death as if he has passed away, even though the target is usually still alive.

The poems will be judged and awarded cash prizes.

Food vendors also will be on site selling tacos, burritos, pupusas, champurrado, corn on the cob, Mexican bunuelos, quesadillas and enchiladas. In addition, local vendors and vendors from Mexico will sell Day of the Dead-inspired clothing, jewelry, hair accessories and crafts.

Free workshops will be offered to the public on how to make sugar skulls and Day of the Dead bread, known as pan de muerto. To attend the workshops, people must register at the Winchester’s front office.

The family-friendly event also will offer children’s activities and free workshops on basket making, Day of the Dead jewelry, and sugar and clay skull decoration.

Attendees are encouraged to dress up for the festival, and face painting will be available for those who want Day of the Dead designs.

Performances are scheduled in the park each day and will feature Mexican dance troupes such as Mariachi Mexico Antiguo, Matachines de Juarez, Izel Ballet Folklorico and Aztec dancers.

Erika Borges, cultural specialist at the Winchester Cultural Center, expects more than 7,000 people to attend, which would make this festival one of the largest events at the center.

“The festival here is all about keeping our tradition alive, getting in touch with our ancestors and celebrating the life that they left behind,” Borges said. “It’s a very powerful event.”

Admission is free. Organizers note that parking is limited, and carpooling is encouraged. For more information, call 702-455-7340.

Contact Sunrise/Whitney View reporter Sandy Lopez at slopez@viewnews.com or 702-383-4686.

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