Carbondale’s Day of the Dead to honor lives lost, lives lived |

Carbondale’s Day of the Dead to honor lives lost, lives lived

First Friday to feature Folklorico dancers, mural artists, Mexican treats

Female dancers with the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet Folklórico practice a dance for this Friday's performance at the Carbondale Dia de los Muertos celebration.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

Dia de los Muertos is an opportunity to bring the Carbondale community together in festive fashion Friday, honoring those who’ve died and recognizing those they left behind, organizers say.

“Carbondale, in general, has a lot of gatherings that connect people, but I think there is something special about this one — there’s really not anything quite like it throughout the valley,” said Amy Kimberly, the Carbondale Arts executive director. “Whether or not we agree on everything, we really come together to celebrate.”

On Nov. 1 — the traditional day to observe Dia de los Muertos — Maria “Judith” Alvarez set up an ofrenda, the altar where celebrants honor their relatives, outside The Launchpad at 76 S. Fourth St.

“For me, this is a way to teach to my son the ways of my home, Mexico,” Alvarez explained. “He was born here and doesn’t know the way I was raised. This is a connection for him to our culture.”

Gently repositioning a plate of meat and mole sauce beneath an opulent image of the Virgin Mary, Alvarez explained the food was for her husband, whose photo on the ofrenda was propped up by an empty bottle of tequila.

“This is a celebration of life, and mole was his favorite food,” Alvarez explained with a smile. “I love this event. It brings the Anglo and Latino communities together.”

Above the altar, strings of marigold flowers direct the spirits of the dead, creating a pathway to the living realm, Alvarez explained. Candles also light the way, ensuring the spirits do not get lost on the Day of the Dead.

“The altar brings humans and spirits together,” she said. “We celebrate the dead children on Monday and the adults on Tuesday.”

Kimberly said Carbondale’s Dia de los Muertos celebration is hosted during November’s First Friday event, a community-wide get together on the first Friday of each month.

“We’ve been doing Dia de los Muertos for about eight years now,” she said. “Because of COVID-19, we moved the ofrenda outside last year, and we’re keeping it outside this year out of an abundance of precaution.”

The event officially kicked off with establishment of the ofrenda Monday, and Kimberly said participants are encouraged to use the ofrenda to honor their loved ones throughout the week, but the celebration starts in earnest Friday with the unveiling and signing of a 56-foot-long mural painted with the help of the community on the CenturyLink building at the corner of Fourth and Main streets.

Gayle Embrey, the mural’s lead artist, said two Latina artists were among the painters as well as about 90 community members who are invited to sign the painting Friday.

“Diversity is an important part of our community, enriching it tremendously, and it’s amazing to be able to highlight that on a day we celebrate that diversity,” Embrey said. “It was great that we all came together to create this mural.”

The mural is a combination of several panels, each representing a section of Carbondale’s history and culture.

“We do represent farmers, hippies, dogs, cats and all sorts of people in our community,” Embrey said. “But we chose to celebrate those that came before us through the lens of Dia de los Muertos. The imagery of the skeletons and marigolds is especially vibrant.”

One of the mural’s artists is scheduled to paint a dandelion, Carbondale’s official town flower, on the final panel Friday, and community members who assisted with the project are invited to sign each of the dandelion’s petals, she said.

Kicking off at 4 p.m., Mexican hot chocolate and other treats will be served during the event, which is free to attend.

At 5:30 p.m., a procession featuring giant skeletons in the style of La Catrina — the Dame of the Dead — fire dancers and Aspen Santa Fe Ballet Folklorico dancers will leave the Third Street Center at 520 S. Third St. and head toward the Fourth and Main streets intersection.

The term Folklorico is used in performance circles to describe all traditional Mexican dances, said Francisco “Paco” Nevarez, the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet Folklorico director.

“When I was a little kid, my mom worked, and she enrolled me in a Folklorico afterschool program in Chihuahua, Mexico,” Nevarez said. “I spent most of my life with a Folklorico dance group in Chihuahua, before I moved to New York.”

Nevarez was offered a job as the Folklorico dance director in the Roaring Fork Valley in 2002, and he’s been in the area ever since.

“Dia de los Muertos is a very traditional, holy ceremony in Mexico,” he said. “In Mexico, we used to go to the cemetery, clean the tombs and they would even put carnival rides and food outside the cemetery. It’s a celebration of life.”

On Friday, his dancers, a group of kids ages 10-17, will perform a number of traditional dances including the Maypole Dance, which signifies the circle of life. The dancers will wear ancestral costumes and La Catrina masks during their performance, he said.

“The celebration helps me fulfill my life here in the United States,” Nevarez said. “We are a special community here in Carbondale. We embrace and celebrate cultures and holidays from all around the world.”

Reporter Ike Fredregill can be reached at 970-384-9154 or by email at