Dia de los Muertos-The Day of the Dead- is often confused as either a Mexican version of Halloween or a dark, evil fixation. Neither of these is true. Instead, Dia de los Muertos is a two-day celebration bursting with color joviality and soulful mysticism. Beginning on November 1st, deceased relatives are said to return to the mortal world to visit their loved ones as honored guests at a party prepared for their arrival.
Rather than insult the dead with a somber reception, the emphasis of the celebration is to enjoy the food, drinks, and activities that the deceased would have enjoyed in life. To welcome the departed spirits, the living prepare elaborate altars on which they place food, drinks, candles, photos of the deceased, and incense. Pan de muertos (bread of the dead) and sugar skeletons are traditional treats enjoyed during the festivities, while all decorations are prepared to create an atmosphere of rejoicing.
The overarching desire of the celebration is to demystify the tragedy of death, and instead embrace the end of the physical body as an important part of the circle of life. Although the festivities are celebrated throughout Latin America, the traditions are born out of the pre-Columbian cultures of the Aztecs, Olmecs, and Mayans, and most closely related to Mexico today.
A mingling of Tex-Mex cultures means the spirit of Dia de los Muertos is also alive and well in the Lone Star State, where tiny border towns and major metropolitan cities alike celebrate the return of the spirits of the dead to the land of the living.
Dia de los Muertos in Austin, TX
The capital city gets in on the action with a combination feast, party, and processional that features events scheduled over a two week period to celebrate the city’s multicultural heritage. A list of events includes something for every interest, with a guarantee to feature a bit of the “weird” that makes Austin so memorable. Among the festivities are a New Orleans inspired procession presented by the Krewe du Bisoux.
Reminiscent of a jazz style funeral, attendees are encouraged to join the parade, which culminates at an oversized community altar where mementos of loved ones can be lovingly placed. Other events include Viva la Vida Festival at the Mexic-Arte Museum. The longest-running Day of the Dead event in Austin features a Grand Procession, Latino artists and entertainment, an exhibition with community altars inside the museum, and educational programs.
Dia de los Muertos in Denton, TX
A North Texas university town with a funky artist vibe is the perfect backdrop for the collaborative efforts of artisans and cultural aficionados to create a celebration that combines Halloween, the Day of the Dead, and the feasts of the harvest. An effort to create a community event that brings families together to celebrate with food and dance in the outdoors is the focus of this celebration.
To honor Dia de los Muertos, giant skeleton puppets amble through the crowds, and participants enjoy a lighthearted coffin race, and a more reflective lantern-lit twilight parade. With a nod to Texas traditions, a salsa cook-off is the highlight of the culinary delights.
Dia de los Muertos in El Paso, TX
A celebration of the spirits of the dead is perhaps most at home in the eerily beautiful Concordia Cemetery in El Paso, TX. Visitors to this border city can celebrate the Day of the Dead in the unique and fitting setting, but typical cold, grey headstones burst to life when colorful marigolds, laughing skeletons, and illuminated candle decorations. Attendees are encouraged to come in costume and participate in the remembrance of the dead with song and dance. In addition to traditional activities, ghost tours, paranormal experts, and fortune tellers are also a part of this event.
Dia de los Muertos in San Antonio, TX
Colorful flags flutter overhead, as mariachi bands ring out from every corner. This is Muertosfest; a two-day celebration is one of the largest and most authentic Day of the Dead celebrations in Texas, as well as a boisterous celebration of the Mexican culture that is prevalent in the city. Taking place in Market Square, the festivities include live music, original art, and grandiose skeleton puppet presentations. The highlight of the festival is the viewing of the altars designed by artists throughout the community.
Dia de los Muertos in Victoria, Texas
In the south Texas town of Victoria, Deleon Park is transformed into a sometimes macabre, but always festive block party in honor of Dia de los Muertos. An early morning “March of Rememberance” kicks of the festivities, which include ballet folklorico dancers, face painting, and a Mercado with local crafts. Inside the Nave Museum, visitors can enjoy detailed Day of the Dead Altars created in honor of deceased loved ones, and retablos, or small artistic designs featuring iconography of Catholic saints.