What is Dia de los Muertos and when is it celebrated?

Published: Tuesday, October 03, 2017 @ 10:29 AM
Updated: Tuesday, October 03, 2017 @ 10:30 AM

It’s not quite Halloween, despite its outward appearance. And, while the dead are involved in Dia de los Muertos, it’s in anything but a macabre way.

Don’t be fooled by the faces painted to look like skulls, or the altars full of food drink for the spirits.

This celebration of the dead comes with a dose of family, not spooks.

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Dia de los Muertos is a tradition in Mexico that is being celebrated more often in the United States. The celebration, which begins late on Oct. 31, brings families together to celebrate their departed loved ones with feasts, altars, decorations and visits to the cemetery.

Here’s a look at the two-day celebration.

What is Dia de los Muertos?

Dia de los Muertos is a celebration of deceased loved ones. It is believed that the gates of heaven are opened every year late on Oct. 31, and the spirits of deceased children are allowed to reunite with their families for 24 hours.

Nov. 2 is when the spirits of deceased adults join their families.

How did it start?

The celebration is centuries old. It was begun in Mexico and is widely celebrated there still. Dia de los Muertos is a blend of Aztec celebrations honoring the dead and Spanish Catholic beliefs.  

How is it celebrated?

The observance of Dia de los Muertos is elaborate. Altars are constructed and decorated with candles, flowers, food and drink. Toys are left for deceased children, and cigarettes and mescal, an alcoholic beverage similar to tequila, are left for deceased adults.

To finish the altar, or ofrendas, skulls made of sugar and decorated with frosting are put into place. The sugar skulls are often purchased at open-air markets.

The altars and accompanying feasts can be expensive, but celebrants sacrifice and save to put on the annual celebrations to honor their departed loved ones.  

The celebrations begin in the home, but by the afternoon of Nov.2, the festivities move to the cemetery, where family members clean graves, listen to music and talk about the dead.

In some places, there are street parties or citywide festivals.

What are sugar skulls?

Sugar skulls are made from molds and decorated with frosting. They are placed on the altars in the homes of those celebrating Dia de los Muertos. Sometimes the skulls are eaten, but more often they are used as decorations for altars.

Sugar art is believed to have been brought to the New World by Italian missionaries in the 17th century.  

Where is it celebrated?

The Day of the Dead is celebrated in many Latin American countries in addition to Mexico.

When is it?    

Dia de los Muertos begins on Nov. 1 and ends on Nov. 2.

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Austin package bombings: Friends remember victims Draylen Mason, Anthony House

Published: Wednesday, March 14, 2018 @ 7:53 AM

Police Investigating Fatal Package Explosions In Austin

Friends and acquaintances of Draylen Mason, the 17-year-old who was killed in one of Monday’s package explosions in Austin, Texas, remembered him as a kind young man and a talented musician.

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Mason’s mother also was injured in the explosion first reported around 6:44 a.m. Monday, authorities said. She remained in the hospital on Tuesday and was in stable condition. Authorities haven’t released her name yet.

Mason’s Facebook page shows that he was a senior at East Austin College Prep and was heavily involved in local music programs such as the Austin Youth Orchestra, where he was the principal double bass player, and the youth music program Austin Soundwaves, where he was also the principal bassist.

“He was a cool guy, and he was just so fun to be around,” said his friend, Kylie Phillips. “He was always busy, because he always had gigs and he was always doing things for the orchestra here in Austin. … I used to sing in a band with him, so it was so devastating when I found out he died.”

Another friend from school, Stephanie Lucio, remembered him as “talented to the max, from dancing to playing so many instruments.”

“As for his mother, I pray for her strength and recovery,” Lucio said. “She raised an outstanding son, friend, student and global citizen.”

>> On Statesman.com: 265 reports of suspicious packages; reward raised to $65,000

Former Austin Council Member Mike Martinez said he had met Mason and re-posted on Facebook a photo of them together.

“I had the honor to meet Draylen Mason in 2013 after he won the Hispanic Bar essay contest,” Martinez wrote. “His essay was on racial profiling and was so insightful and mature for such a young man. All of these tragedies are so horrible for our community. We must put a stop to this. RIP Draylen.”

Mason had been accepted to the University of Texas Butler School of Music, UT spokesman J.B. Bird said Tuesday.

The dean of the College of Fine Arts, Doug Dempster, offered his condolences, calling Mason a “most remarkable talent” who had the “chops to study music in college.”

“We at the University of Texas were so eager to have him join our music school … He carried himself with a kind of quiet maturity that belied his youth,” Dempster said. “The loss of a child with such conspicuous ambition, talent and determination is the cruelest kind of heartbreak.”

Some of Mason’s teachers grieved for him on social media, describing him as a remarkable student.

Sam Osemene, a U.S. government professor at Austin Community College, said he was intelligent and well-loved by everyone in the classroom.

“He was a very vibrant young man, full of life, always smiling,” Osemene told the American-Statesman on Tuesday. “He had what I call a zeal to succeed.”

>> On MyStatesman.com: Police first focused on drug case. They were wrong.

Mason had previously shared a couple videos of classical string performances on his Facebook page, and several photos of him show him playing a double bass or sitting at a piano.

A spokesperson from Soundwaves said Mason had worked with its executive director since he was 11 years old.

Mason had left a five-star review on Austin Soundwaves’ Facebook page: “Austin Soundwaves is a great music programs that’s dedicated to the advancement of kids in East Austin thru the power of music,” he wrote. “They push everyone to strive and to do great things in life.”

The group had been contacted by Mason’s family and asked not to comment further.

Mason had performed with the Austin Youth Orchestra for the last six years, its conductor, William Dicks, said Tuesday.

“He was an outstanding young man that had the talent and artistry to be a first class professional musician,” Dicks said. “It’s senseless.”

The first victim

Mason was the second person killed in the series of package explosions that began earlier this month.

Anthony House, who was killed in the first package bombing on March 2, was father to an 8-year-old girl and a Pflugerville High School and Texas State University graduate. Friends remembered him as quiet, clean-cut and driven.

House ran track and played basketball at Pflugerville High School where he made friendships that lasted throughout his life.

“He wanted to be something different and bigger than what a lot of people thought he was going to do,” said fellow Pflugerville Panther Greg Padgitt, who graduated two years before House. “He was quiet, but jokey with the kids that he let in. He was a great kid.”

After graduating from Texas State University with a degree in business administration, finance and financial management services in 2008, House started a money managing firm, serving as president of House Capital Management LLC. More recently he worked as a senior project manager for Texas Quarries, a Cedar Park-based lime fabricator, and Acme Brick, a Fort Worth-based firm. According to public records, House had recently begun attending Austin Community College.

>> On Statesman.com: COMPLETE COVERAGE: Austin’s package explosions

House’s family members declined to speak to the media Tuesday, but Freddie Dixon, House’s stepfather, had previously told the Washington Post that he thinks the bombings were a hate crime.

“Are you trying to say something to prominent African-American families?” Dixon, who is close friends with Mason’s grandfather and is the co-founder of the Austin Area Urban League, told the Post. “It’s not just coincidental.”

State Sen. Kirk Watson, a Democrat from Austin, expressed his condolences for House via Facebook on Tuesday afternoon: “The family of Anthony Stephan House, including his wife and 8-year-old daughter, has endured such a terrible loss through an absolutely inexplicable act of violence. Anthony was laid to rest this past weekend. I’ve known his stepfather, the Rev. Freddie Dixon, for many years and send my deepest condolences to the family.”

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Austin package explosions: 3 blasts appear connected, claim 2 lives, police say

Published: Monday, March 12, 2018 @ 10:07 PM
Updated: Monday, March 12, 2018 @ 10:07 PM

Police Investigating Fatal Package Explosions In Austin

Three package explosions in Austin in the past two weeks appear similar and related, authorities said Monday, and police are warning residents against taking suspicious packages inside their homes.

>> Read more trending news

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Teen hit by bus during Washington D.C. field trip dies

Published: Sunday, March 18, 2018 @ 12:03 AM

File photo.  (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
Matt Cardy/Getty Images
File photo. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)(Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

A North Carolina teen visiting the nation’s capitol on a middle school field trip died Thursday after he was hit by a bus March 9, according to officials. 

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Hunter Brown, 14, of Wilkesboro, North Carolina, was struck and trapped under a tour bus at around 6:50 p.m. near the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial, according to the Wilkes Journal-Patriot.

Responders were able to jack up the bus and free Brown after about 10 minutes, according to WFMY. He was taken to Children’s National Medical Center where he was in critical condition. 

Brown was visiting Washington, D.C., on an eighth grade field trip with other students from Central Wilkes Middle School, according to WFMY

The incident is being investigated by the U.S. Park Police Traffic Safety Unit and Criminal Investigations

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Florida man armed with 20-inch knife tries to carjack sheriff citizen patrol car, deputies say

Published: Saturday, March 17, 2018 @ 8:26 PM

A man armed with a 20-inch knife tried to carjack a Flagler County Sheriff’s Citizen Observer Patrol (C.O.P.) vehicle while Cpl. Angela Camit was on patrol, authorities said. (Photo: Flagler County Sheriff's Office)
A man armed with a 20-inch knife tried to carjack a Flagler County Sheriff’s Citizen Observer Patrol (C.O.P.) vehicle while Cpl. Angela Camit was on patrol, authorities said. (Photo: Flagler County Sheriff's Office)

A man armed with a 20-inch knife tried to carjack a Flagler County Sheriff’s Citizen Observer Patrol (C.O.P.) vehicle while Cpl. Angela Camit was on patrol, authorities said.

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Camit said that after the failed carjacking attempt on Eric Drive in Palm Coast, the man, later identified as Stephen Goldberg, fled. Camit followed him and that’s when Goldberg, 32, ran toward her with the knife.

Investigators said deputies arrived and took Goldberg into custody without incident.

“Had he approached a sheriff’s deputy in this manner, it is likely that we would have had a different outcome,” Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly said.

Staly said Goldberg is a “career repeat offender.”

“Our C.O.P.s are invaluable volunteers who serve and help protect this community alongside our deputies. We will not tolerate anyone threatening harm to them or anyone else. I hope the courts keep him locked up and he is sent back to prison where he belongs before he hurts someone,” Staly said.

Camit is a seasoned C.O.P. with several years of experience, and in light of the incident, the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office will reevaluate the equipment issued to C.O.P.s for their protection.

Goldberg was arrested and charged with attempted armed carjacking, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and armed trespassing.

Deputies said Goldberg will be booked into the Flagler County Detention Facility without bail.

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