Day of the Dead celebration in Vancouver features traditions from Mexico, Bolivia, Ecuador

The Day of the Dead Altar de Muertos installation by Latincouver was set up on Granville Island last month. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
The Day of the Dead Altar de Muertos installation by Latincouver was set up on Granville Island last month. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

A tradition that commemorates family and friends who have passed away is ending on Wednesday, and organizers of the celebration in Vancouver are wrapping up with traditions from Mexico, Bolivia and Ecuador.

Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is celebrated for three days in Mexico, and typically features live music and plenty of food. Some say the act of commemorating the dead dates back to pre-Hispanic times.

"We celebrate death in a different way and we believe that our ancestors and family that passed away are coming to visit us on November 1 and November 2," said Paloma Morales with Latincouver on CBC's The Early Edition on Monday.

During the pandemic, people celebrated without the festivities or a public ofrenda, an altar to honour people who have passed away.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

East Vancouver resident Yazmin Vasquez says she made her own home altar for her grandparents in 2020, when pandemic restrictions kept her from celebrating the holiday in a traditional way.

"Every element, every object, every picture ... it [was] therapeutic for me," said Vasquez, who is from Mexico.

'We don't necessarily believe that they're fully gone'

Morales says a public altar has been set up at Granville Island since last month, featuring cultural items from Mexico, Ecuador and Bolivia.

Pamela Ordonez, a Bolivian Canadian in Vancouver, says she realized she shared similarities with Morales around celebrating their ancestors.

"We're so far away as Bolivians from Mexico yet we have a few similarities like how we don't necessarily believe that they're fully gone," Ordonez told CBC News, adding that both cultures also celebrate the tradition at the beginning of November.

"They are always with us so we like to commemorate that with a party."

Submitted by Pamela Ordonez
Submitted by Pamela Ordonez

Ordonez says the installation at Granville Island also features Bolivian traditions, like placing bread in the shape of ladders on the altar.

"We have these little ladders made out of bread that represent their passage — it's their way of entering back to Earth, to our everyday life," she said.

People are invited to a closing celebration of Dia de los Muertos at Ocean Art Works Pavilion in Granville Island on Nov. 2 at 5 p.m., where traditional music and food from Mexico, Bolivia and Ecuador will be featured.

"Our [Bolivian] culture is not as known here ... so I'm very, very honoured to see my tradition celebrated here in Canada," Ordonez said.