Day of the Dead in the Snoqualmie Valley

[Guest article by Nati De Paso author Women of Fire and Snow]

The Seattle area is alive with color, not only because of the changing leaves, but from the bright orange pumpkins and decorated skeletons, black bats and cats with piercing yellow eyes, and pink and purple paper banners above golden marigolds.

According to the census data released in August 2021, Latinx and Asian populations increased by 2% in King County, and only 54% of the population identifies as white non-Latinx. Snoqualmie’s population grew 34% in the last ten years. Diversity is evident everywhere we look, especially during Halloween.

The Day of the dead used to be an intimate celebration for immigrants who yearned for the festivities back home. Now, the fall season brings altars and references to Day of the Dead as well as Halloween. Due to the effort of Latinx to raise awareness and pride in their roots and teachers embracing multiculturalism, the autumn event is a unique mixture depending on the location.

The Day of the Dead is also the fusion of two cultures. In August, the Aztecs in pre-Colombian Mexico honored their dead ancestors and the god and goddess of the underworld. They burned copal incense and spread marigolds or cempasuchitl flowers to guide the dead back to the world for a visit. They believed that marigold petals held the sun’s rays, guiding the dead like a beacon.

When the Spanish conquered Mexico five hundred years ago, they changed the ritual to November 1st and 2nd to coincide with the Catholic celebration of All Souls Day. The current festivities are now a hybrid of both traditions and range from week-long festivities at the cemetery to simply lighting a votive in memory of the dead. A closer look at an altar reveals religious items such as crosses, images, statues of saints, and votive candles, the skulls made of sugar instead.

Many Latinx dress up for Halloween in elegant traditional Mexican dress and paint their faces like Catrinas. In the early twentieth century, caricaturist Jose Guadalupe Posadas created these fashionable skeletons to mock Mexicans imitating the Spanish and Europeans. Catrinas remind us that we will all die no matter how elegantly we dress.

But Mexico is not the only country that honors the dead; all Latin American countries observe some form of the Catholic feast. For example, Haiti has Day of the Dead or Fete Gede on the same day and in the cemetery but with a Voodoo rite. In India, they invoke the dead and pray to reconcile with one’s ancestors during Mahalaya.

Snoqualmie is one of the fastest-growing cities in the state. As people move in and our cultures shift and transform, immigrants will contribute new traditions transforming our holidays and celebrations. 

[Nati del Paso works as a lead counselor in the Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity of the University of Washington, Seattle, and has lived with her husband by the North Fork of the Snoqualmie River since 2016. del Paso is a counselor and writer raised in Mexico by an American father and Mexican mother. Her new book, Women of Fire and Snow is available on Amazon and most major retailers.]

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