Dia de los Muertos, also known as Day of the Dead, may sound somewhat unpleasant, but this traditional Mexican holiday is actually a celebration of life. “I think one of the biggest misconceptions is that people think it’s a very dark, gloomy, and scary type of holiday, but it’s really quite the opposite,” shared Jerry Sauceda, the Welcoming and Marketing Chair for the New Braunfels Hispanic Business Alliance, which hosts a Dia de los Muertos event in New Braunfels each year. “Dia de los Muertos is about celebrating the life of loved ones that have passed.”
Evita Avery, owner of the folk art gallery GTO in San Miguel de Allende, has sold Mexican folk art for 35 years and has been constructing altars (or ofrendas) since she began has business in San Antonio. “This homage to the deceased has its roots in pre-Hispanic ritual syncretized with Roman Catholicism,” Avery said. “November 1, All Saints Day, is when the dead children are celebrated and commemorated and on November 2, the adults.”
According to Avery, ofrendas are placed on family altars at home or at grave sites of departed loved ones, and then decorated with the person’s favorite foods. Some common foods are mole and often tequila or beer. Other items are set out in anticipation of their visit, including folk art, cigarettes, paper cut-outs, cempasuchitl, or orange marigolds (the ritual flower of the dead), copal incense, and candles. For children, toys and and the sugar alfeñique animals are placed on their altars alongside other things that were special to them.
“One of my most moving memories in one of the villages was that of an older gentleman playing his wife’s favorite piece on the violin at her grave site,” Avery said. “This holiday places death in a cultural framework where death is always a part of life – a cyclical view of life and death, rather than the linear one the West has created, offering an amazing visual vocabulary of skeleton motifs, seen in the indigenous dances, the folk arts, mainstream art, in shop windows, homes, public places, dance, poetry, and political and social satire. The skeleton is alive and well in Mexico!”
According to Marti Salazar who grew up in the Valley, “The reason why this is celebrated is so that ancestors won’t die from the third death.” He explained that the third death is when they are forgotten completely and their spirit no longer exists. “So we have to remember our loved ones,” Salazar said. “We have to make sure that our spirits can be reunited in heaven. I think that’s so beautiful.”
As Texas has a large population of folks of Mexican descent, with more than 60 percent in San Antonio alone, it is no surprise that the city goes all out in honor of this special holiday. With a dedicated festival featuring more than 20 events from October 20 through November 3, San Antonio easily hosts the largest Day of the Dead festival in the Lone Star State. There is an array of events to choose from this year, but here are some favorites:
Date: Saturday, October 27 – Sunday, October 28
Location: La Villita
About: Set right off the River Walk, La Villita hosts a major celebration for Day of the Dead fusing traditional culture with contemporary Latino music and features the largest open-air altar exhibition in the city. Events are free and open to the public and include live music at Arneson River Theater, original Day of the Dead art, a living altar, a dance, drum and puppet parade, live poetry, and more. Musical performances range from traditional mariachi musicians and folklorico dancers to Tex-Mex punk and electronic cumbia.
Date: Thursday, November 1 – Friday, November 2
Location: Pearl Park
About: Pearl Park will be transformed for its elaborate Día de los Muertos celebration with artist-created and community altars placed throughout the property, live music, a procession, and children’s crafts. On-site locales, including Hotel Emma, will join in the festivities with unique altars and original programming. All events are free and open to the public.
For more information on San Antonio’s Dia de los Muertos Festivities, visit: www.visitsanantonio.com.
Dia De Los Muertos Festival 2018
Date: Saturday, October 27, 2018
Location: Main Plaza Downtown New Braunfels, Texas
About: This free cultural event will feature food and food trucks, drinks, arts and crafts, an ofrenda (offering space) for honoring the lives of loved ones passed, vendor booths, shopping, contests, and live entertainment.
ESB-MACC Dia de los Muertos
Date: Sunday, October 21, 2018
Location: 600 River Street, Austin, Texas
About: This free cultural event is a great outing for families. It includes live music and entertainment, family art activities, a costume contest, and more. Performers will include Clemencia Zapata, Susana Torres, Johnny Degollado, Accordion & Conjunto Allstars, and Las Corbetas, Anthony Ortiz, Jr.’s family mariachi band.
Details on this and other Austin events: http://austindayofthedead.com/events