Día de los Muertos or “The Day of the Dead” is celebrated on November 1st throughout Latin America, and you may be familiar with the beautiful flowered skull face paint (the skull symbol is called calacas or calaveras) adorned by countless Halloween revelers. You might also think of Mexico when thinking of Día de los Muertos, as that’s where the holiday originated.
It’s twined with the Catholic celebration, All Saints day, and combines traditional Aztec practices with the Catholic practice of celebrating those who have passed on. Despite a more melancholic sounding name, this holiday is actually quite jovial and can be uproarious. It’s celebrated with food, drink, parades, songs and dancing as well as things that the dead enjoyed doing when they were still alive.
If you have the opportunity to experience a Día de los Muertos, it’s an amazing thing to behold. So, why not seize the opportunity or make one of your own? We’ve complied a list of the best places to see, experience, and really live your own Day of the Dead — give it a chance?
Flickr photo via David Bacon
A quiet town in central Mexico, Pátzcuaro is a beautiful colonial and indigenous architectural dream, though it doesn’t have much on the go most of the year. It may seem sleepy, but it comes alive for the Día de los Muertos celebrations beginning in late October. The main square comes alive with a craft market and competition that is known and celebrated nationwide. You’ll find some amazingly beautiful and ornate calacas, and the chance to taste some pan de muerto, a kind of sweet bread that is commonly eaten on this holiday. The streets will be decorated heavily with garlands of marigolds, and bustling with tourists so make sure you keep your camera handy to snap some amazing photos.
On the first of November, vigils will be held in the graveyard of the nearby villages and they last all night. In this area of Mexico, you’ll notice that most of the ceremonial aspects of this holiday are a bit more sombre and spiritual, which helps to balance the amount of commercialism and decadence that the tourists in the area often seem to inspire. Entrances to cemeteries during this time (all night long a well) are free and photographs are allowed within respectful reason.
On Isla Janitzio, you may notice some candle-lit boats and a predominantly female presence. This is in celebration of the souls of children or angelitos, and although beautiful is also quite sad. It’s advised that you go quite late (past midnight) for this celebration, but be prepared for crowds.
San Francisco Bay, USA
Flickr photo via Carnaval.com Studios
A spot a little closer to home where you can see some amazing Day of the Dead celebrations is in San Francisco. The Mission District is the place to be, and where the procession and alter exhibit happen and where you’ll want to be on the 2nd of November. You’re more than welcome to make your own altar for a loved one that has passed away, and you can add yours (or simply check out the ones that others have made) in Garfield Park. The procession includes traditional Aztec dancers, and is completely free of charge, though donations are accepted for the Garfield Park Clubhouse.
The San Francisco Symphony hosts a Día de los Muertos community concert on the 7th, which is heavily decorated and traditional foods and refreshments are available though you will need to buy tickets for this event. The SOMArts also hosts a month-long Day of the Dead exhibition that you can check out any time from about mid-October until early November.
Oakland’s Fruitvale district also has a street fair on the Sunday after the holiday where you can also get a glimpse of some traditional altars and dance performances. The food here may not be traditional but it will be delicious as tones of local vendors roll out their tastiest treats for the fair.
Flickr photo via Hidrocálido
Every year here, this beautiful city hosts the Festival de las Calaveras or the Festival of Skulls. It’s held from October 28th until November 2nd and in similar fashion to the previous mentioned locals, you’ll be able to see some beautiful handmade alters, and try some delicious traditional food. You’ll also be able to see some theatre performances, and concerts throughout the festival that are often breathtaking and original.
What makes this festival different from the others? Here, you can see the original engraving of La Catrina an infamous symbol of the Day of the Dead carved by Jose Guadalupe Posada who was born in Aguascalientes. Essentially a feminized skeleton, La Catrina was truly made famous (and given the moniker of La Catrina) by Diego Rivera (Frida Kahlo’s husband) and has been a Day of the Dead symbol, and in fact an important symbol in Latin cultural ever since. You can have your picture taken with the original here at the festival, or take home some manufactured trinket of it’s facsimile.
How are you planning of celebrating the Day of the Dead?