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October 28, 1990|KAREN E. KLEIN

Picnics in graveyards, dancing skeletons and "death bread" may lack the mainstream appeal of celebrations for, say, Halloween.

However, as Halloween revelry unfolds this week, some families will mark the traditional festive Mexican celebration of El Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.

"It is a humoristic way to face this thing (death) that in some cultures is very frightening," said Eduardo Sanchez, cultural coordinator of Pasadena's Centro de Accion Social, a social-service agency.

Sanchez recalls that in Mexico City, where he grew up, the entire family would spend the day at the graveyard, tending to the family plots and offering up their deceased relatives' favorite foods or beloved objects on candle-lit altars.

According to the tradition that began in Central and South America before Columbus, the spirits of the dead return to earth on the Day of the Dead, often pulling mischievous pranks on the family members they left behind.

"It's a way of giving them respect, remembering them with happiness," Sanchez said. "They come back to us to share once

again in the party, and we can say, 'How are you? I miss you. I bring you some music and some tamales.' "

The Centro is holding its own Day of the Dead party Friday at Central Park in Pasadena, complete with a mock grave-

yard, flower-

bedecked tombstones, death bread (loaves with grinning skeletons on them), Aztec dancers and a group that plays pre-Columbian music.

The party is from 5 to 9 p.m. at 37 E. Del Mar Blvd., Pasadena. Admission is free.

Meanwhile, across the street from Central Park, the Folk Tree shop is commemorating the occasion with an exhibit featuring displays by 25 artists using Day of the Dead themes.

Five altars have been built for the exhibit, which includes a Salvadoran sawdust floor painting, a surrealistic portrait of an artist who died last year and ceramic cups and plates with skeleton imagery on them.

The Folk Tree, at 217 S. Fair Oaks, Pasadena, is open Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. The exhibit, which is free, is open through Nov. 4.

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