The Galt Cemetery’s third annual Día de los Muertos event brought 100 locals together Saturday morning to celebrate the multi-day Mexican holiday. Complete with music, dancing, food, face-painting and ceremonial altars, the event thrived in the face of COVID-19 procedures put in place this year.

Cemetery director Belinda Ellis was pleased to host the celebration again this year alongside fellow event coordinator Silvia Van Steyn.

“I was so happy to have the board’s (Galt-Arno Cemetery District) support again this year,” Ellis said. “Because of COVID, we’ve had to change the way we’ve done this event.”

Such changes included the encouragement of mask wearing, the placement of altars on the gravesites instead of close together, and the widespread practice of social-distancing throughout the day.

The day began at 9 a.m. with Father Miguel from St. Christopher’s Catholic Church in Galt officiating Mass on the cemetery grounds. Afterward, the cemetery hosted entertainment by the Danza Yolloh Tonanztin Aztec dancers, Ballet Folklorico Raices Mexicanas and the Mariachi Luz De Luna. Also brought back by popular demand was the community car show that the event coordinators welcomed at last year’s celebration.

In honor of all the families that the Galt Cemetery has serviced, the site hosted a large community altar with offerings dedicated to all those who have passed. Families also had the opportunity to commune together at each of their altars to remember those who have moved on in their own lives. Prayers and the blessing of all the altars also took place in traditional fashion.

Thornton resident Hope Pulido came with her family to remember the lives of her father and of her brother’s mother-in-law.

“We’ve done this every year,” Pulido said of the altar tradition. “My father was a farmer here his entire life, but really, he was good at everything.”

Like others on the grounds, the Pulido altar contained pictures of loved ones, traditional marigolds, brightly painted images of skulls, flameless candles, and other items characterizing their lives and personalities.

Attendees described the holiday as one of commemoration, not of sorrow. As Board Trustee Manuel Rocha of the Galt-Arno Cemetery District remarked, “It’s about remembrance, a day that brings people together to remember their loved ones.”

For Ellis, it was a personal reminder that “losing someone is sad, but our memories of them don’t have to be.”

The event comes as Sacramento County reaches nearly 500 deaths as a result of COVID-19 and more than 17,000 statewide.

For some, the atmosphere at the cemetery reminded them of the value of life in a time marked by great turbulence.

Visitor Andrés Barajas observed the gathering as one that made him “realize not to take the life I’ve been given for granted. I see these altars, some with kids on them, and it changes my perspective on life.”

Ellis and Van Steyn both look forward to hosting this event again next year.