CLEMSON – It will be a day to remember loved ones who have passed away when the South Carolina Botanical Garden holds its first-ever Day of the Dead, Día de los Muertos, celebration from 6 to 9 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 2, at the garden.

The Cempazuchitl, Mexican marigold, is the main flower to use in Day of the Dead celebrations.

The cempazuchitl, Mexican marigold, is the main flower used in Day of the Dead celebrations.
Image Credit: Clemson Public Service and Agriculture

Admission is free. The Botanical Garden is located at 150 Discovery Lane, Clemson.

The Day of the Dead Festival is a traditional Latin American holiday when people celebrate and honor loved ones who have passed away. The idea to hold a Day of the Dead celebration at the Botanical Garden began in May during a visit from Mexican Consul General Remedios Gómez Arnau.

“From there it started growing into a collaboration of several entities across the Upstate with the common goals of creating awareness of Mexican/Latino culture, as well as providing a welcoming environment for the Upstate’s Mexican/Latino population in which they can continue cherishing their traditions,” said Rodrigo Martinez-Duarte, a Clemson assistant professor of mechanical engineering.

Martinez-Duarte stressed the holiday is not exclusive to Mexico and that several different Latino cultures also celebrate it.

Several activities are planned for Friday’s event, including a special outdoor screening of the Disney Pixar movie “Coco” beginning at 6:45 p.m. Gómez Arnau will give the keynote address. The celebration also includes an exhibition of Hispanic artists by Palmetto Luna Art featuring Mexican painter, Laura Lesllo who will present a live Día de los Muertos painting performance.

One of the more curious traditions of the Day of the Dead and a reason it is often confused with Halloween is the richly decorated altars or “ofrendas” that consume houses and gravesites of the departed. These altars are decorated with sugar skulls, skeletons, incense and candles.

For the festival, the Hispanic Alliance will construct a massive altar where the public can display pictures, food and favorite mementos from their loved ones. These items symbolize what their loved ones need on their journey through the afterlife. At the center of the display, a giant La Catrina, a popular icon of death in Mexico, presides over the altar. Created by artist Sara Montero, this elegant papier mâché sculpture towers 12 feet. It has been displayed across South Carolina. An additional altar will also be designed and constructed by the students of Greenville County Lifelong Learning.

The Botanical Garden has been growing cempazuchitl, Mexican marigold flowers, to carpet the altar. This is the main flower used during Day of the Dead celebrations. The flower’s vibrant color is said to represent the sun, which in Aztec mythology guides spirits on their way to the underworld.

The Day of the Dead celebration is the result of the ancient ritual venerations and offerings to the goddess Mictecacihuatl, “Lady of the Dead,” for deceased children and adults, as well as the Spaniards’ desire to accommodate these festivities within the Catholic celebrations of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. The emphasis of this holiday is on honoring memories and uniting the community as well as using celebration and vibrant colors to lighten the dark shades of our mortality.

Lee Gill, Clemson’s chief diversity officer, said this event is representative of the university’s support of and engagement with the Hispanic community.

“Clemson is proud to host an initiative which brings together multiple partners and emphasizes the values of celebration and curiosity around the increasing diversity in our state,” Gill said. “We invite everyone to come and learn what a celebration of the Day of the Dead means to the Hispanic community.”

The Day of the Dead celebration is organized in collaboration with the Mexican Consulate in Raleigh, North Carolina; the South Carolina Botanical Garden, Clemson University Division of Inclusion and Equity, the Commission on Latino Affairs, the Upstate Hispanic Alliance, Lifelong Learning of Greenville County Schools and Palmetto Luna Arts.