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Experience Day of the Dead at Harbourfront Centre
Saturday November 8 and Sunday November 9, 2008

TORONTO, October 16, 2008 - Harbourfront Centre and the Consulate General of Mexico present a free cultural celebration for Day of the Dead on Saturday November 8 and Sunday November 9. This ancient Mesoamerican festivity and a prominent Mexican national popular holiday (on November 2) remembers ancestors by bringing their memories to life through a vast array of family oriented activities.

Day of the Dead showcases these vibrant traditions with two full days of free music, crafts, dance, storytelling, altars, visual arts and food. All events take place at Harbourfront Centre (235 Queens Quay West) from noon to 6 p.m. each day and are suitable for all ages. For information the public can call 416-973-4000 or visit

Day of the Dead highlights and listings below - all times applicable for both days (November 8 & 9):

Music: Toronto's The Homeless band mesh Blues and R&B with Latin and Mexican sounds. Married couple Mr J and Vivian V honed their skills in Mexico, studying at the National School of Music; and have performed at festivals throughout Ontario and Mexico (3 p.m. performances). The group Café Con Pan are duo acoustic performers Kali Niño Mendoza and Alec Dempster - a married Toronto couple playing and exploring varied Son Jarocho styles. Over a decade ago they began apprenticing with musicians from the communities around Santiago Tuxtla and play the rural Son Jarocho styles of this region. Kali´s extensive research and tasteful selection from a wide range of sources has also seen the adaptation of verses from Andalucia whose themes fit within the the scheme of sones such as La Indita and El Balajú (4:30 p.m. performances). Mariachi Viva México have become one of the most important exponents of Mexican music and traditions in Toronto. They continue to offer a taste of Mexico’s musical legacy beyond its frontiers (2:30 p.m. performances).

Community Ofrendas/Altars: This year an Ofrenda to Montezuma will be created by the Mexican -Canadian Association & Mexican Folkloric Dance Company and will be on display from noon to 6 p.m. each day. Montezuma was the last Aztec Emperor before the arrival of the Spanish. The Ofrenda orginated with the Aztec and the Catholic church to help convert native populations by mixing ethnic cultural customs with Catholic symbols. Both presenting organizations have been pillars of the Meximcan community in Toronto for more than 25 years. (open noon to 6 p.m. each day)

Dance:Grupo Folklorico Viva México has been representing Mexican folklore in Toronto since 1998 and have performed throughout Ontario and in the US. Their purpose is to endorse authentic Mexican folklore from various regions and express it through its captivating music, breathtaking dances, and colourful costumes
(1 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. performances). Two of the group's dancers will also be dressed as the iconic figure La Katrina, animating the site throughout the day.

Film: The 90 minute documentary The Day of the Dead – Celebration of Family & Life shows how this holiday is celebrated through the eyes of dancers, artists and historians. Discover the vibrancy of several contemporary Day of the Dead celebrations in Southern California, including live concert footage of the Latin group Quetzal. Explore the colorful customs and artistic and cultural significance of this holiday. (1:30 p.m.)

Food: Chef Antonio Romero of El Jacalito restaurant provides an delicious array of Mexican cuisine for purchase all weekend and will demonstrate dishes like the traditional dessert Calabaza en Tacha and Empanadas de Calabaza as well as Empanada's unstuffed Christmas cousins Buñuelos (1 p.m. each day).

Visual Arts: Noted Toronto photographer Vincenzo Pietropaolo lectures and presents his work in Mexico with the Gardiner Museum, with a focus on the Days of the Dead festivities - including visits to cemeteries, markets, and the homes/studios of various artists. The lecture also includes his previous work on Mexican migrant farm workers in Canada (4 p.m. each day). Pietropaolo, active in photography since 1971, has published six books of photography in addition to exhibiting internationally. Canadian Geographic calls him "one of Canada's pre-eminent documentary photographers". This lecture is presented in collaboration with the Gardiner Museum - who are presenting the multimedia exhibition Days of the Dead: Food for Thought daily from October 3, 2008 to January 18, 2009.

Textiles of Oaxaca demo with Margarita and Crispina Navarro Gómez:
This one hour demo (3 p.m. each day) is by Margarita and Crispina Navarro Gómez, sisters from the small town of Santo Tomás Jalieza, Ocotlán, State of Oaxaca. These highly skilled weavers still use the traditional backstrap loom. In 2007 Crispina was awarded a national prize for her achievements as a weaver. Her work has appeared in various publications including ‘The Arts and Crafts of Mexico’ This demonstration is presented in collaboration with the Gardiner Museum.

Marketplace: Mexican arts and crafts from jewelry and ceramics to Day of the Dead memorabilia sold by 12 vendors (both days , noon to 6 p.m.).

Children/Families: Make and take skeletons, skulls and Katrina figures. Draw an offering to the departed and add to the ofrenda (1 to 3 p.m., 4 to 5:30 p.m.)

What is the Day of the Dead?
The original celebration can be traced to Mesoamerican native traditions, such as the festivities held during the Aztec month of Miccailhuitontli (July), ritually presided over by the "Lady of the Dead" (Mictecacihuatl), and dedicated to children and the dead. The festive mood comes from pre-Hispanic society beliefs that regard death not as the end of life, but rather as an awakening or rebirth in the land of the dead. In the post-conquest era the festivities were moved by Spanish priests to coincide with the Christian holiday of All Hallows Eve (Halloween). The end result is that Mexicans now celebrate the Day of the Dead during the first two days of November. The modern festivity is characterized by the traditional Mexican blend of ancient aboriginal and introduced Christian features.

What happens during Day of the Dead?
Generally, families welcome the dead back into their homes and/or by visiting the graves of close kin. At the cemetery, family members spruce up the gravesite, decorate it with flowers and enjoy a picnic in addition to interacting with other family and community members. In both cases, celebrants believe that the souls of the dead return and are all around them. Families remember the departed by telling stories about them. Meals prepared for these picnics usually featuring meat dishes in spicy sauces, chocolate beverages, cookies, sugary confections in a variety of animal or skull shapes, and a special egg-batter bread ("pan de muerto," or bread of the dead). Gravesites and family altars are decorated with flowers and adorned with religious amulets and offerings of food, cigarettes and alcohol. This commemoration has pleasant overtones for the observers, in spite of the open fatalism, whose interaction with both living and dead is an important social ritual.

For more information and pictures on Day of the Dead link to: and


Media Contact: Shane Gerard, 416-973-4518,
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