An elaborate altar honors dearly departed loved ones at The College of Wooster's Day of the Dead commemoration.

An elaborate altar honors dearly departed loved ones at The College of Wooster's Day of the Dead commemoration.


Spirits Expected to Return to Campus for 10th ‘Day of the Dead’ Celebration

Annual event to be celebrated Oct 31-Nov. 1 with tributes to the dearly departed

October 31, 2012 by John Finn

WOOSTER, Ohio — Hurricane Sandy may have thwarted Vice-President Joe Biden’s plans to visit campus on Tuesday, but it will have no effect on the souls of the dearly departed who plan to “pass through” Wooster on Wednesday and Thursday.

Pam Frese, professor of sociology and anthropology, and students in two of her classes (Contemporary U.S. Culture, and Magic, Witchcraft, and Religion) will be hosting Wooster’s 10th Day of the Dead celebration, this one scheduled for Kauke Hall’s Old Main.

Students, faculty, staff, and members of the community are invited to honor the memory of a loved one by setting up an ofrenda (Spanish for offering), which usually consists of photos, mementos, and other items and images that represent the life of someone who has passed away, usually in the last year. According to Mexican belief, spirits visit these celebrations to rest and often partake of the food set out for them on their way from purgatory to heaven. The tradition is closely tied to the Christian rituals of All-Souls and All-Saints Day.

Even spirits need a lift and a reason to stop, so Chuck Wagers, director of dining services, has added a special brew to the already attractive menu, which includes Mexican Hot Chocolate and “Bread of the Dead.” Wager’s newly concocted Cafe de los Muertos (Coffee of the Dead) is a cinnamon mocha using Starbucks Coffee, bittersweet chocolate, cinnamon syrup, and cream.

Day of the Dead, a Mexican custom, has become increasingly popular in the United States, while Halloween, a Euro-American institution, has gradually migrated to Mexico. “An interesting cross-cultural exchange is taking place,” says Frese. “More Americans are participating in Day of the Dead, and more Mexicans are celebrating Halloween.”

Frese is quick to point out that while the two overlap, they are actually quite different. “Halloween, with figures like Dracula and Frankenstein, is scary,” she says, “but Day of the Dead is happy and joyous because the dead and living can commune together.”

Students really enjoy the celebration, but it’s not all fun and games. Frese uses the occasion to illustrate how various cultures deal with death, both practically and spiritually. “I always teach at least one course in the fall for which Day of the Dead is a relevant exercise,” she says.

Frese admits that she, too, has a lot of fun with the event. In fact, she loves to shop for objects appropriate for Day of the Dead celebrations, which have made their way into the Halloween sections of most retailers, including Wal-Mart. Frese is especially fond of the sitting skulls with dangling legs and masks, which are this year’s acquisition. “They’re not scary,” she says. “They’re cute.”