Local families gathered at the graves of loved ones on Oct. 23 for Galt-Arno Cemetery District’s observance of Día de los Muertos.

Also known as the Day of the Dead, the holiday is a time to remember the lives of dead loved ones. Families set up altars called ofrendas at gravesites and decorated them with pictures of the person being honored, items associated with them, and brightly colored paper and flowers.

Ofrendas often include foods that a person loved in life.

“We believe that you’re putting their favorite foods on the altar, so you’re also enjoying it with them because you’re eating the food that they used to enjoy,” event coordinator Silvia Van Steyn said. She came up with the idea for the cemetery district’s event thinking about her son, Michael, who died in 2017.

“For me, it’s been almost five years (since Michael’s death),” Van Steyn told the Herald, “so then I get to bring out the chocolate chip pancakes that my son used to like.”

The family of Gabriel Garcia put out Mexican breads, melon, beer and tequila — all Garcia’s favorites when he was alive.

“And, of course, he had everything with chiles,” said Carmen Gomez, Garcia’s daughter-in-law. She also pointed to family photos, symbols of Garcia’s Catholic faith and garden tools representing his landscaping business. They had sprinkled salt “to spook away any bad spirits or bad vibes.”

Garcia’s daughter, Martha, died a few hours after birth and was buried at the same plot, so the family had brought stuffed animals and a baby doll for her.

“It’s really nice to have a day of remembrance,” Gomez said. “You know, sometimes when people pass away, it can be really a sad time, but today is really a day of joy and remembering our loved ones.”

The observance at Galt Cemetery included a Catholic Mass, as well as lively performances celebrating Mexican culture, such as Aztec dance group Yolotl Tonantzin, Ballet Folklórico Raíces Mexicanas and Mariachi Luz de Luna.

Local businesses and groups sold flower arrangements for ofrendas and tasty foods. Compadres Market donated Mexican breads for the attendees.

“I cannot tell you how happy this makes me, and it makes me so happy to have Mass here. It’s huge,” district director Belinda Ellis said. She emphasized the ability for Día de los Muertos to connect younger generations with their ancestors.

“Look at these young kids that are running around here,” Ellis said. “They don’t know Grandma and Grandpa, and families are sitting around here and they’re talking about Grandma and Grandpa and they’re introducing them to them.”

Van Steyn explained that the event is also aimed at educating community members who don’t know about Día de los Muertos. For example, Van Steyn and Ellis noted, although it happens around the same time, Día de los Muertos is not Halloween.

The cemetery district posted information about the holiday on its Facebook page in the preceding weeks.

“Imagine if you could say ‘hello’ to all of your favorite family members and friends, even after they have said their final goodbyes,” a post from Oct. 20 read.

Van Steyn said that the hopeful tone is integral to Día de los Muertos.

“Death is not always supposed to be sad. We’re remembering them, so we want it to be a happy time,” Van Steyn said.