In the opening sequence of 2015’s Spectre, James Bond, dressed as a calaca – a skeleton – stalks his target through Dia de Los Muertos celebrations in Mexico City. A bit of Hollywood cultural appropriation perhaps, but, like the films of Tim Burton, a popular introduction for those unfamiliar with Mexico’s “Day of the Dead,” an ancient holiday that celebrates the lives of friends and family members who have died, encouraging their spirits to return home and commune with the people who loved them.
The roots of Dia de los Muertos originated in the ancient Aztec festival dedicated to Mictecacihuatl, a deity and keeper of the bones of the underworld. Its influences can also be traced to the European Danse Macabre and memento mori, artistic and religious works meant to remind humans of the fragility of life and the levelling influence of death on the rich and poor. With Spanish colonization, came the Catholic celebrations of All Hallows Eve (Halloween), All Saints’ Day and All Souls Day, whose dates (October 31st to November 2nd), if not their color, richness, and pageantry, correspond to the Day of the Dead celebrations.
Cemeteries are tidied and the graves of children (‘Angelitos’ – little angels) are decorated with toys and other brightly-colored objects. Families and friends build altars, making careful arrangements of marigolds, favorite food and drinks, sugar skulls, marzipan skeletons, photos, signs and other items that recall the dead. Music, food, dancing, costumes and other cultural activities act as communal talismen of unification, celebration and loss. Candles act as beacons for the spirits on their journey home.
Dia de los Muertos influenced the traditions of other Spanish-speaking countries and became culturally significant in the United States with Mexican immigration, particularly in the border states. Some of the biggest and best Day of the Dead celebrations occur in and around Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego.
Santa Ana: Noche de Altares
November 5, 2016 12:00pm to 10:00pm
Since 2002, El Centro Cultural de Mexico has been organizing Noche de Altares (Night of Altars), a community-based Dia de los Muertos festival. The purpose is to honor the ancient traditions and bring community members together through art, culture and compassion. Participants are invited to build altars to celebrate their loved ones or bring attention to a social issue. In addition to viewing beautifully-crafted altars, there are cultural performances and exhibitions, live entertainment, art workshops, a marketplace and food stalls. This is the largest Dia de los Muertos celebration in Orange County.
Los Angeles: 43rd Annual Dia de los Muertos Celebration 2016
Wednesday, November 2nd, 2016 5:00pm
Self Help Graphics & Art is the leading non-profit visual arts center serving the predominantly Latino community of Los Angeles. Self Help Graphics’ mission is to drive the creation of new work by Chicano and Latino artists through fine art printmaking and multiple visual art forms.
For 43 years Self Help Graphics & Art (SHG) has organized one of the most popular Día de los Muertos events in Los Angeles and one of the oldest Day of the Dead commemorations in the country. This program is unique in that it provides the community with a season of activities through out the fall, to celebrate and prepare for Día de los Muertos. Activities include performances and music by Alice Bag, legendary Chicana punk icon, Chulita Vinyl Club (LA Chapter), a traditional ceremonial blessing, food and craft vendors, face painting and childrens’ workshops.
SOMArts: Art Exhibition
Friday, October 7 to Saturday, November 5, 2016
An annual Day of the Dead exhibition featuring more than 70 artists each year and curated by René Yañez and Rio Yañez and assisted by architect Nick Gomez.
SOMArts’ annual Day of the Dead exhibition, beginning in mid-October and concluding around the time of the holiday itself, is a beloved and uniquely San Francisco event. Curated by René Yañez and Rio Yañez with assistance from architect Nick Gomez, the event features work by more than 70 artists each year.
Dia de los Muertos San Francisco & @dayofthedeadSF on Facebook
Wednesday, November 2, 2016 the Mission District,
At least 15,000 participants march in a procession through the Mission district, starting at 7:00pm at 24th and Bryant and ending at an altar exhibit at Garfield Park. There are additional altar projects around the Mission District all week.
San Francisco Symphony: Dia de los Muertos Community Concert
Saturday, November 5, 2016 2:00pm & 8:00pm performances
Highlights of the concerts include Grammy Award-winning La Santa Cecilia, Mariachi Flor de Tolache, an all-female mariachi band from New York and the Women of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus.
Historias Tenebrosas: Lyceum Theater
October 31 – November 1, 2016
Historias Tenebrosas (Spooky Stories) is an elaborate and unique cultural event that will entertain, educate and enlighten families of all ages about the similarities and difference between Halloween and Dia de los Muertos. Step into our adventurous carnival funhouse hosted by Señor y Señora Muertos for a costume contest, face painting, fortune telling, music, children’s corner, hot chocolate, pan dulce, and lots and lots of candy. Plus, enjoy an old-fashioned evening of story-telling filled with thrills and chills.
Festival and Celebration: Saturday, October 29th & Sunday, October 30th, 2016
Procession: November 2nd – Line up at 4:30pm; begins at 6:30pm
As an area filled with merchants, entertainment, regional foods and history, Old Town is the ideal center for Dia de los Muertos, offering traditional entertainment, art shows, crafts, sugar skull face painting and event-specific menus. Remembrance, Community and Celebration is the thematic umbrella for the three-day event and 75,000 visitors are expected.
The candelight procession on November 2nd, symbolizing community unity, begins at the State Park and proceeds to El Campo Santo cemetery. Electronic candles are available to purchase. Costumes and face paint are encouraged.
Click here to see a complete listing of Dia de los Muertos events across the United States.
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Tags:2016, candlelight procession, celebration, community, Dia de los Muertos, el Campo Santo cemetery, Garfield Park, Historias Tenebrosas, La Santa Cecilia, los angeles, Lyceum Theater, Mariachi Flor de Tolache, marigolds, Mission District, Night of altars, noche de altares, Old Town San Diego, procession, remembrance, San Diego, San Francisco Symphony, Santa Ana, SelfHelp Graphics & Art, SOMArts, sugar skulls