Area families are invited to memorialize their loved ones at the Dia de Los Muertos altar at La Reyna in Vinton this week.

Area families are invited to memorialize their loved ones at the Dia de Los Muertos altar at La Reyna in Vinton this week.

Every parent who had to wake up a child after a long night of trick-or-treating knows just how big a deal Halloween is to American families.

But this time of the year is even a bigger deal – one of the biggest of the year, in fact – for people like Carlos and Carmen Legaspi. The owners of the La Reyna Mexican restaurant, along with Steve Anderson, the local Americano who serves La Reyna’s front manager, are hoping this year to share a bit of the history and meaning of the holiday known as Day of the Dead.

Called Dia de los Muertos in Spanish, the holiday is day for Mexicans, as well as many other Spanish-speaking nations, to honor deceased loved ones. It dates back to ancient Mexico, where the belief that the spirits of the dead returned to the place where they were buried.

“I have always loved learning about cultures and people, and I have learned a lot about culture and life in Mexico from Carmen and Carlos,” says Anderson. “One of my big takeaways is that family is of utmost importance to them. It’s something I wish we embraced more as the American culture, as we have given that away in the sense of we are in this together and replaced it with whatever makes life easy for “me” – i.,e.. cell phones, Netflix, video games instead of interacting, and sacrificing time and energy, with our kids and loved ones.”

Celebration of memories

“I am truly excited about Dia de Los Muertos because unlike our tradition of mourning through sorrow, they celebrate the fact that they even have memories of those they have lost, and the love they have for them,” Anderson explains. “Sure it’s a little different and very colorful, but really I think most of those people I have lost would want to be remembered in cheerful thought and not in depression. My Uncle Wally would be tickled pink to see the Cubs in the World Series. He wouldn’t want me being sad over it. I think we can take a lot from that and look at family and life in a different lighter light.”

Anderson also mentions two other relatives who he will think about this week.

“My cousin Allen and Uncle Bob were the comic relief of our family get-togethers. They would want celebrations of their lives, which is what Dia de Los Muertos is about: Feasts and friends, gifts and love for those here and gone,” says Anderson. “I hope everyone takes the opportunity to stop down and celebrate with us, and not only that, but partake in it all. I hope they will bring a memento for a loved on to put on the Altar of Remembrance.

During Dia de Los Muertos, there will be a buffet for $13, with dessert and soft drink included. The servers will be painted in the traditional Mexican style for this occasion, and anyone can leave momentos on the altar. Some photos and other items had been left there Tuesday; area residents are welcome to do so during open restaurant hours Wednesday, the day of the official celebration.

The altars frequently include candles, placed to help the returning souls find their way. The brightly-colored designs often include skulls, intended to remind celebrants that regardless of how much success or money they have, one day, they, too, will face death. Confetti and bright colors, along with a statuette known as La Catrina, created more than a century ago by artist Jose Posada. The humorous look on La Catrina’s face is both an expression of that culture’s ability to laugh at death, as well as the fact that death is the great equalizer: Regardless of fame, fortune or success, all will end up in the grave.