About 35,000 people from all over Southern California descended upon the Hollywood Forever Cemetery on Saturday for the 12th Annual Dia de los Muertos, a joyous Mexican holiday celebrating loved ones lost.
In what organizers claim is the largest Dia de los Muertos festival in the country, and the only one held in a cemetery, the centerpiece of the event is the array of elaborate and colorful altars and spiritual shrines.
We visited this year's Dia de los Muertos festival to take in the sights, sounds, smells and to talk to some of the participants about their ceremonial altars.
As you enter the cemetery, you're greeted by a colorful group of Aztec dancers performing traditional dances to the beat of drums.
Altars can very from large and ornate to small and simple. In this particular altar, the creator infused herself (at center) amongst her menagerie of sculptures.
A group of women in costume take in the sights at Dia de los Muertos. The women on the right and center have their faces painted like calacas, or skeletons, a traditional symbol of the Latin American celebration.
Calaveras are not the dark and ominous figures we associate with Halloween. Instead, these figures are shown beautifully dressed and are meant to joyously symbolize and celebrate passed loved ones.
Kiersten Segura (left) and Raena Valenzuela stand next to their ceremonial altar they've dubbed, "Arbelitos de Vida," or "Trees of Life."
Kiersten and Raena's altar honors their Aunt Elise who passed away from breast cancer in April of this year. The women constructed 10-foot-tall trees out of PVC pipe, chicken wire, foam, paint and paper-mache.
They chose to construct the trees to symbolize their aunt's belief that all that human beings and nature are one entity. Items on the altar include a camera to represent her passion for photography, as well as the traditional offerings of food and drink.
Marigolds are the traditional flower used in these altars and it is believed that the fragrance of these flowers leads the spirits home. Photos of other loved ones who the family have lost are also included.
While face painting seems to be more popular at the Hollywood Forever ceremony, people traditionally wore skull masks like the ones seen on this group of revelers.
One altar featured a wooden dance floor that the organizers used to entertain the passing guests (and perhaps some unseen spirits!).
Santa Monica resident Frank Medina stands in front of his altar, titled "Pier Into the Past." His family has lived in Santa Monica for five generations, since 1930.
The elaborate altar took two months of work to create, and features a replica of the Santa Monica Pier entryway and a surfboard to represent the family's active lifestyle. The top tier of the altar features Medina's father and grandparents, and the bottom tier is their brothers and sisters as well as cousins and pets. "It's a lot of work, but it's all worth it. It's all family. A lot of late nights, but good times," said Medina. "We're not artists we're just people that got together and decided to do something to honor our past."
The family invited passers by to write names of lost loved ones on cards to be included in the altar.
Jon Flores and Chynna Clugston-Flores created an altar for the three pets they lost this year, two dogs and one cat.
Pictures of the couple's lost pets, along with their pets' favorite toys and treats adorn the altar. The couple has even included the boxes containing the ashes of their lost pets (seen in center of photo).
Click here for more information on Dia de los Muertos at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
Photos by Michelle Lanz
Additional Reporting by Drew Tewksbury
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