SANTA MARIA, Calif. - Hundreds of pictures, items of food and decoration are on display at the Santa Maria Town Center to remember and celebrate - not mourn - the passing of local people who have died from natural deaths, drunk driving accidents and the string of murders in Santa Maria over the past two years.
Patricia Solorio's brother died following a shark attack four years ago.
"For my family, it's been very cathartic and very healing to be able to come and put up the alter and just share stories with other people who have had that same loss," Solorio said.
Solorio says the 3,000 year-old tradition of Dia De Los Muertos is a time to remember and celebrate - not mourn - the lives of loved ones who have passed.
"It's not meant to be a sad occasion," ," Solorio said.
Locally this tradition started literally in the backyards of Santa Maria 22 years ago.
"And there's beautiful stories that people share about their families driving across from Texas to California in that car," Solorio said.
It's gotten so big over the years that they now put up their displays in the Santa Maria Town Center - showcasing alters, pictures, letters, decorations and sometimes even food.
"There's nothing like being in a room full of people who really understand what you're going through," Solorio said.
They're also remembering the murder victims in Santa Maria over the past two years.
"This year we made sure that we highlighted and dedicated an alter to those folks who have lost their lives," Solorio said.
Several organizations also have displays here, including the Central Coast Future Leaders. They're highlighting the dangers of drunk driving and tobacco use.
"Yea Jade actually, I knew her cousin Bobby," Matthew Castillo said.
Bobby was critically injured and Jade was killed in a car accident three years ago. They were struck by a man who was driving under the influence.
"Living life to its fullest is definitely what I've learned from the situation," Castillo said.
"They say that you die three times.. the day you die, the day they bury you.. and the day your name is last spoken," Solorio said.
It's open to the public for free until 8 pm on Wednesday if you'd like to come by and celebrate these lives.