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Denton’s Day of the Dead celebrates multicultural fall festivities

Denton’s Day of the Dead celebrates multicultural fall festivities

Coffin race participants race down Hickory St. during Denton's Day of the Dead festival. American Eagle Harley-Davidson won first place for the coffin races. Rachel Walters

Denton’s Day of the Dead celebrates multicultural fall festivities
October 30
13:40 2017

The crowd held their breath as Cleopatra pointed her gun at the sky.

At the sound of the gunshot, two coffin boxcars raced down E. Hickory Street, wheels swiftly gaining speed. They flew past Queenie’s Steakhouse, past the parking lot and crash-landed into bales of hay at the finish line.

“It’s our first crash of the day,” the commentator said gleefully into the microphone.  

Denton hosted its seventh annual Day of the Dead festival Saturday along E. Hickory and Industrial Streets. The festival included elements of Día De Los Muertos, Halloween and fall festivities into a day-long celebration starting at 11 a.m.

“There are a lot of people in this community that just absolutely love [it],” founder and director David J. Pierce said. “Denton is multicultural, and there’s such a strong artistic presence that there’s a community that’s rooted itself here.”

The festival included a twilight parade, live music performances, a pumpkin patch and a matinee of Cirque du Horror, Denton’s very own Halloween musical.

But one of its most popular events is the coffin boxcar race.

Denton’s businesses and groups craft specialized coffins and race to win the championship. This year, Pierce said a record number of 71 teams signed up for the race. 

“You have a concept of what it’s going to look like,” said Josh Piers, West Oak Coffee Bar manager. “But actually seeing it happen the way you wanted to or even better than you thought it would felt good.”

Coffins donned names like “The Winona Rider” and “Evil Knievel” to reflect their unique personalities. Greenpoint Technologies, which specializes in aircraft, made their coffin resemble a jet, and it drew a large crowd.

Members of Mariachi Quetzal play at Denton’s Day of the Dead Festival. Mariachi Quetzal played traditional mariachi music to a crowd on Industrial Street. Rachel Walters

“We had an engineering team to help us design it, so it’s well-designed,” Greenpoint Technologies employee Cody Nissen said. “And it’s just to have fun and bring our work team together.”

Dentonites at the event didn’t spare the scare on their own individual designs. A giant loofah, Donald Trump, the Ghostbusters and even a family of terrifying clowns were just a few of the standout looks.

“The whole fact that we do it as a family and that we get to scare [is great],” attendee Julie Lastovica said, whose family dressed as clowns. “We just think it’s funny, and we get a kick out of it. There’s five of us in the house, so we’re all clowns basically.”

Starting early in the morning, vendors from local organizations set up their tents for attendees to shop and eat. Many vendors made specific Day of the Dead products for the event. Others aimed to provide info and spread awareness for their organizations.

“Day of the Dead is not associated with Halloween,” said Bellanne Morales Hyten, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce president. “They’re two different, distinct holidays, but people dress up and embrace the whole thing.”

The festival itself incorporates multiple themes and elements. Hyten said she meets with the committee behind Day of the Dead to talk about different Hispanic traditions.

“For Mexico, it’s a very solemn occasion,” Hyten said. “There’s the festive side to it. It’s [also] a time of remembrance of your loved ones.”

Hyten said celebration of the holiday varies between families, and her goal is to grow awareness of the culture to attendees.

“We like to say ‘look’ just to teach people about some of the traditions that we have throughout the Hispanic community,” Hyten said.

Vendors Esmeralda Lopez and Omar Morales Europa said they have been handcrafting jewelry and crafts for years. In their Europa Marketing & Design booth, there were colorful necklaces, handmade crosses and bracelets made of coffee beans and seeds.

Lopez and Europa both come from artistic families.

“I started the company in 2012, but my husband and his family in Mexico have been doing crafts since he was a child, so it’s been about 45 years [of experience],” Lopez said.

The two said they use the craft as a creative outlet away from their day jobs.

“I’m a licensed clinical social worker Monday through Friday, and [Omar] is an electrician, so this gives us a break from our 9-to-5 jobs,” Lopez said. “It’s just to do something different, meet people, look at what’s out there culturally and just collaborate with folks.”

In the evening, the festival celebrated with the Twilight Parade — upbeat music, giant sugar skulls and glowing lights abounded.

Karen Bravo, a UNT adjunct professor in the College of Visual Arts and Design, was one of the volunteers for the Patterson-Appleton Arts Center. She said the parade was a way to remember her loved ones.

“The whole point of the parade and the Day of the Dead is about the heritage of those that have passed on,” Bravo said. “So for me, my mother passed away, so I was thinking about her.”

This is Bravo’s second year at the festival and said it’s a source of community and fulfillment.

“It’s all a day to remember your loved ones and celebrate culture,” Bravo said. “And it’s artsy, creative fun.”

The Day of the Dead Festival, with its infamous coffin races, crazy costumes and live music, was sure to bring Dentonites together in many ways.

“It’s meant for the community,” Pierce said. “It really is for people of all ages, and it’s meant for people to take whatever they want to take out of it.”

Featured Image: Coffin race participants race down Hickory Street during Denton’s Day of the Dead festival. American Eagle Harley-Davidson won first place in the coffin races. Rachel Walters

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Amy Roh

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