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Wander Minnesota: Dias de los Muertos

Amy Rea Amy Rea
Amy Rea is a freelance writer and author of Minnesota, Land of 10,000...
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Halloween isn’t the only big holiday occurring this week. Right on its heels is Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, a popular Hispanic celebration that honors loved ones who are no longer with us. Unlike a somber funeral, Dia de los Muertos tends to focus more on the joy of remembering loved ones and celebrating the lives they lived. Brightly colored skeletons and skulls, lots of food, and often music all play a part in the festivities, which also involve altars set up to honor the departed.

For several years, St. Paul’s El Burrito Mercado has set up altars and sold goods for Dia de los Muertos. This year, the family owned business that opened in 1979 is responding to interest in Dia de los Muertos with new aspects of its long-time celebrations.

(credit: Amy Rea)

(credit: Amy Rea)

This Friday, Nov. 1, the St. Paul store will have a live mariachi band, face painting, and a special Day of the Dead tasting, where participants will get to try food items like sugar skulls and pan de muerto, a sweet bread baked for Dia de los Muertos.

Saturday, there will be additional food tastings, and store staff will be on hand at the altar to explain the rituals involved in Dia de los Muertos and discussing how an altar is created and how they’re customized.

(credit: Amy Rea)

(credit: Amy Rea)

El Burrito Mercado’s COO, Milissa Silva-Diaz, points to increased interest in Dia de los Muertos as the reason for creating more informational approaches in the store. “We’re getting more and more inquiries,” she said. “People want to know the history of it. It’s really exciting.”

It’s not surprising that Minnesota’s growing Hispanic population would be interested in El Burrito Mercado’s work with Dia de los Muertos, but they’re also likely to be familiar with it. The increased interest is coming from non-Hispanics, who find the holiday has some of the vividness of Halloween, but with a deeper context. “This has a richness,” noted Silva-Diaz. “A holiday like this needs to mean something, not just be trendy.”

She points to the little skulls, a common decoration, as an example: this year was El Burrito Mercado’s first year at the Minnesota State Fair, and the little skulls were their top-selling item.

The staff is excited to help people understand the traditions behind Dia de los Muertos. “It’s an event that has really evolved, become a lot more artistic,” said Silva-Diaz. “So we wanted to make a very traditional altar that would show the elements that are usually represented.” Those elements include candles to light the way of the departed; water to quench their thirst; tissue paper to represent wind; and marigolds to represent earth. “We’re really excited to teach people about this,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to offer a cultural experience.”

Note: the El Burrito Mercado location at Midtown Global Market will also celebrate Dia de los Muertos on Saturday. Midtown Global Market has several events planned that day, appropriate for families.

What else is happening in our state? Be sure to check out the 10 p.m. Sunday night WCCO newscasts, where you can learn more in the weekly segment, Finding Minnesota.