Gossypia brings Day of the Dead to life in Alexandria


Day of the Dead is in full swing at Gossypia, the corner shop at Cameron and Royal Streets. With hundreds of handcrafted pieces honoring the ancient memorial celebration directly from the lands of Latin America, shopping is a curious joy.

Where else could you buy a miniature convertible Volkswagen Bug, top down, filled with skeleton friends going for a joy ride, or a life-size skeleton in ballroom attire? All through this month, Gossypia is a milieu of culturally relevant skeletons, skulls and devils, offering Alexandria every conceivable manifestation of a religious festival both solemn and celebratory, both strange and familiar.

Celebrated on Oct. 31, Nov. 1 and 2, Day of the Dead is a deeper, richer version of the Catholic holiday All Saints Day. Gossypia offers a special concentration on the Mexican traditions surrounding the holiday and the robust celebration simply defies categories. Layers of meaning, said owner Amanda Lasker, is a good way to think about [Day of the Dead]. Lasker should know. The texture of her own life is replete with layers.

As a young adult, Lasker lived in Guatemala and Mexico where she breathed the air, traveled extensively and collected local crafts. Her father farmed in Guatemala and remnants of her family remain today. The land, the people, the crafts, especially from her time in Mexico really never left her; in effect, for many years shes been bringing the memories to life at Gossypia, a business she started 40 years ago.

Ancestral pull
The yearly festival in Mexico is a grand wake, a time of familial tightness which musters memory and prayers for ones ancestry. Tradition beckons family to create a home altar and later an excursion to the cemetery on the night of the 31st, where vendors will flock, selling crafts, food and drink. The vigil is an all-night affair conducted in grand overtones or in simplistic ways of the peasantry. However celebrated, the tradition is heightened by the irreversible influences of the ancient Indian settlers, such as the Aztec and Mayan peoples. Gossypia will follow tradition by offering customers Day of the Dead bread and beverage from Oct 31-Nov. 2 to enhance the experience.

These whimsical crafts draw the male shopper as well. Lasker notes a spike in male customers every October: We call them Day of the Dead men! she said.

One senses that Gossypia understands it has a valuable role to play in the community as hands-on educators of Latin America customs. During her time as owner of Gossypia, Lasker has witnessed the increasing numbers of Latin Americans drawn to Northern Virginia and believes theres great value in understanding their cultures.

Adults and children [from Spanish classes] will come to visit Gossypia as part of their education, said Lasker.