Historic Murphys Dia de Los Muertos

By Catherine Carnahan
The Sierra foothill town of Murphys celebrated its 9th annual Dia de Los Muertos. The historic Gold Country town in the Sierra foothills celebrates this event on the first Saturday each November. It is a celebration of the lives of those who have passed and are with us in heart and spirit each year on this “Day of the Dead”.

To share this tradition in Murphys, the heart of Calaveras County “Land of the Skulls” was the crazy, beautiful dream of Evelyn Reyes-Umana, Owner of Bodega del Sur Winery. She wished to honor the lives of Women by setting up an ofrenda in her tasting room. Ofrenda (altars) are built to attract and please returning souls with favorite items, photographs, and food offerings. She invited two other wineries to join her by honoring ones to Men (Gossamer Cellars) and Children (Tanner Vineyards) From those humble beginnings this event has grown to become one of the most beloved events of the year in Murphys. This year drew more people than ever to celebrate. Many came dressed in calavera and traditional attire. Facepainters were stationed around town to help all get in the spirit of the day.

36 merchants along Main Street hosted an ofrenda, each with a unique celebration to the lives they honored. A community ofrenda was set up in the park where all were welcome to add a photo or leave a note to a loved one. By the end of the day the altar was covered with notes and pictures.

The Murphys Community Park was the hub of activities for the day with traditional performances by Rondalla Presencia de Amor and Ballet Folklorico Raices Mexicanos. The park was alive with color and art by vendors who specialized in traditional craft and Day of Dead themed art.

Not to be missed was the vast folk art collection on display at the House on Main. Hosted by Frank Sanchez, the house was decorated with calavera posed in charming vignettes along with photo ops with a giant Catrina and Alebrijes staged on the front lawn.

Evelyn wanted to do something special this year and invited a small group to join her on the patio of the tasting room for a blessing by the Kalpulli Ketzalkoatl Ehecatl Aztec dance group from Stockton. This was not something that was announced to the general public as she felt the people who were meant to be there would gravitate to arrive in time for the blessing…and they did. It was an intimate, very special moment on a crowd filled day.

The highlight of the event was the crowning of the 2018 La Catrina / El Catrin pageant. This year the winners were Norma Arias of Oakland and Christopher Buttner of Murphys.
The event ended with a short program by renowned storyteller B.Z. Smith. Pan de Muertos and Mexican spiced hot chocolate was served as the sun began to set on another beautiful autumn day in Murphys.

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