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Oh, how we love the gilded light of late day in Fall and the many colorful festivals that come with this season of firery leaves.  Early darkness calls for fairies to bring their golden light to make our candles shine bright in the evenings.  A general glow causes us to feel whimsical - possibly even more connected to a mystical realm, as well as a bit nostalgic for the surging life of summer that is now fading.  Local El Día de los Muertos celebrations provide the perfect opportunity for connecting with the "thinning of the veil between worlds," celebrating, and remembering. 

What is El Dia de los Muertos?

"El Día de los Muertos is a ritual time to honor loved ones who have died and to acknowledge death as a part of life."  (Petaluma Arts Council website)  This festival, honored from October 31 - November 2, has ancient Aztec roots and is celebrated by Latin Americans in Mexico, the United States and Canada.  Key elements of the day include: altars, traditional recipes, handmade decorations, and "fiestas" celebrating loved ones who have passed on beyond the earthly realm.

Visit your local library branch and check out two great children's books on the subject:  Pablo Remembers:  The Fiesta of the Day of the Dead or Day of the Day of the Dead by Linda Lowery.  

Or watch this video recommended by Creative Kismet:

Creating a Rememberance Table or Altar

Central to the celebration of El Día de los Muertos is the creation of a rememberance table or altar.  This decorated table serves as the physical gathering place for ethereal symbols - a mescla (or mixture) of the spiritual and worldly.

"The altar consist for four levels and four sides, representing the four stages of life, the four points of the earth, the four seasons, and the four mathematical points upon which the pyramids were built. Bases upon these four points the following items are used."  Click here to read more about this ancient Aztec tradition.
Four life elements are used in creating altars: water (shells or cups), fire (candles), earth (flowers such as marigolds or - on our alter - the "corkscrew" scarlet flowers), and wind (flutes or feathers).

We'll add our own cultural twist by including pumpkins and gourds on our table.  You too can add lovely orbs to your table by joining in Singing Frog Farm's Pumpkin event on Saturday.   (Or check out the Pumpkin Patch guide created by Sonoma Family Life Magazine for information on other local patches and Halloween events.)  Look closely and you'll also see my first ever felted creation on our table- the tiny wool orange pumpkin by the gnomie! 

To learn more about making altars, join the Petaluma Arts Council at the Petaluma Arts Center on October 11 (Sunday) 4:00 – 6:00 pm for an altar making workshop. Come and learn the symbolism of the elements that create an altar and talk with the altar makers as they create their altar for the Art Center. Refreshments and folk art will be available for sale. (For reservations call 769-1647.)

The Sonoma County Museum will also offer an altar making workshop for $15 ($12 members) on Saturday October 24 from 11-12:30.  Scholarships are available and registration is required.  Call 579-1500 x17.


Mole!  The traditional dish served for this fiesta is tamales slathered in a savory, sweet Mole sauce combining chocolate and chiles.  Other traditional foods include pan de muerto and sugar skulls. Both recipes are included in Festival of Bones or El Festival de las Calaveras by Luis San Vicente available through the Sonoma County library.

You can also learn to make a sugar skull at the Saturday, Oct. 24, 2-5pm, Petaluma Farmer’s Market in Walnut Park on the Corner of Petaluma Blvd. South and D Street.

El Día de los Muertos Arts and Craft Ideas

Have fun creating a few of the traditional handmade decorations honoring those who have passed.  Tissue paper decorations "papel picado"  are featured in the book Mexican Papercutting: Simple Techniques for Creating Colorful Cut-Paper Projects  Or download a free pattern and instructions hereEasy paper flowers provide a lovely embellishment to your altar or home.  Try making skeleton or "calaveras" decorations.  For great ideas check out these stamp and drawing links. 

Community Celebrations

Just added events in Santa Rosa and Sonoma: 

Santa Rosa Memorial Park-Crematory, November 1, 2009, 11:00 - 4:00 pm at 1900 Franklin Ave, Santa Rosa, CA.   "Join us for Day of the Dead Celebration including:  story telling, cultural crafts for children, Aztec dancers, beautiful family sponsored altars, special traditional foods.  542-1580 for details.
 The City of Santa Rosa invites you to the Courthouse Square for celebrations Sunday and Monday November 1-2 from 10:00 - 8:00 p.m. daily.  

Sonoma Valley celebrates traditional Day of the Dead on Sunday, November 1 with observances and altars.  Join in viewing elaborate altars and sugar skulls created by community groups from 1:00 - 4:00 at the La Luz Community Center (17560 Greger Street, Boyes Hot Springs.)   Then move over to the Sonoma Valley of Art (551 Broadway, Sonoma) at 4:00 pm for folk music and luminaria lighted procession.   The procession walks to the Sonoma Community Center (276 E. Napa Street) where the lighting and viewing of a community altar and serving of refreshments.

The Sonoma County Museum invites families to attend a free day at the museum in celebration of El Día de los Muertos on Saturday, October 31, from 1:00 - 4:00.  Join the museum for live music, refreshments, and arts activiteis for all ages.  Call 579-1500 or see the museum website for more information.

The Petaluma Arts Council and the El Día de los Muertos Petaluma 2009 prsent: "Flames of the Heart/Llamas del Corazón" October 17 - November 2, 2009. 

For details and more information contact: Margie Helm: or 778-9922 or see the Petaluma Arts Council website.  Sponsored events include:

Oct. 17 (Saturday) 1:00-5:00 pm, Colors of Spanish Colors of Spanish, 55 Maria Drive
invites you to attend an Introduction to El Día de los Muertos. This family-oriented event will introduce you to a multi-cultural celebration which is gaining such popularity here within our own communities! Explore beyond the familiar images of this commemorative event as you and your family learn about the history and some of the interesting traditions celebrated in many parts of Latin America.

Oct. 18 (Sunday) 1:00 – 4:00 pm, El Día de los Muertos Opening, St. Vincent de Paul Church Square
Enjoy Mexican food, St. Vincent de Paul Aztec Dance Group, Santa Rosa Folkloric group Ballet Sonatlan, and Windsor Bloco drum and dance corps from Windsor Middle School.

Oct. 24 (Friday) 5:30-9:00 pm, Las Poemas del Recuerdo,  Petaluma Art Center
(Poems of Remembrance) is an evening of Bilingual Poetry hosted by poets Beatriz Lagos and Terry Ehret with featured readers Jabez Churchill and Geri Digiorno.

Oct. 30 (Friday) 6:00 pm, Procession and Performance, Downtown Petaluma starts at Water Street Bistro
Mariachi Jaliso, Danza Coyolxauqui Aztec drumming and dance grupo, a Folkloric Dance Group and Windsor Bloco will lead our traditional candle-lit procession with giant puppets through Petaluma. Classic Mexican folktale in Spanish and English to follow.

Oct. 31st (Saturday) 3:00 - 5:00 pm, Panpipes Workshop, Petaluma Library, 100 Fairgrounds Dr.
Chaskinakuy (cha-ski-NOCK-wee) presents the Music of the Andes Family Program and a panpipes workshop in the style of Andean village ensembles. Contact: / (707) 571-1377 (Sponsored by The Friends of the Petaluma Library.)

Oct. 31 (Saturday) 11am A Story Time for Preschoolers at the Petaluma Library, 100 Fairgrounds Drive
Lively stories in Spanish and English, songs and poetry for ages 2-5 yrs. and their caregivers.


  1. Sono-Ma: Holly White-Wolfe // October 24, 2009 at 7:45 AM  

    Sono-Ma Karla Gormley just sent me her pictures of the lovely, felted creations she's putting on her table this holiday season. Marvel at the dragon she made with her mommy friends through her Waldorf Parent/Toddler program. Check out the wicked witch she won at the Pacha Mama Midwifery ( fundrasier.

  2. Sono-Ma: Holly White-Wolfe // October 26, 2009 at 2:53 PM  

    Bryles and I walked down Kentucky Street last night and saw many of the marvelous Altares Ofrendas in the store windows. Take the hubby on this walking tour for a date night before the displays come down on November 2. The hundreds of displays are breath taking with original art in honor of those passed. Walking tour guide can be found here:

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