Dìa de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, has become part of the annual Halloween celebrations in many Southwestern cities and communities.  Northern California is no exception.  First held in Central and Southern Mexico in the 1500’s, the holiday takes place over several days, usually October 31st and November 1st and 2nd. It honors family members and friends who have passed away. Dìa de los Muertos illustrates the Mexican view that death is part of the continuum of life, and that our loved ones who have passed never really leave us. Accordingly, Mexicans have this special time each year to celebrate these departed friends and relatives by making special ofrendas, or altars, honoring the deceased.

Day of the Dead Traditions

During Dìa de los Muertos, celebrations are held that typically include meeting other revelers at a church or park, praying for or thinking about the deceased loved one, walking in a procession while holding candles, singing and playing music, and finally a picnic in the cemetery or other designated spot where relatives and friends have set up the ofrendas.

These ofrendas feature possessions and photos of the person who has passed away, as well as their favorite foods and drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. Elaborate floral decorations using marigolds, a funeral flower long used by the ancient Aztecs, beautify the area. Sometimes calaveras, or skulls, decorate the ofrenda.  Sometimes decorated sugar skulls are used, and paper mache calacas, or skeletons, are hung as well.

Figures of La Catrina, the elegant female skeleton wearing an over-the top chapeau, abound during Dìa de los Muertos because these skeletons symbolize how death is the great equalizer of all people, rich or poor. La Catrina who was created in the 1880’s, doesn’t take herself or death seriously; she literally laughs at death. In 2008 UNESCO inscribed the tradition of Dia de Los Muertos in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Local Celebrations

You can take part in local Dìa de los Muertos celebrations. Here are a few, but there are many others.

First, the Solano AIDS Coalition holds a Dìa de los Muertos Celebration of Life/traditional cultural event honoring our ancestors in Vallejo on Saturday, November 2, 2019 from 11:00 am until 6:00 pm.  The location is Georgia and Sacramento Streets in downtown Vallejo.  Refurbished wedding gowns made by local youths will be featured.  There will be food, entertainment, a Dia de Los Muertos altar competition, and a Muertas Catrinaspageant.

Second, San Rafael has their 31st Day of the Dead Celebration on Saturday, November 2, 2019, from 3:00pm until 9:00 pm at the Albert J. Boro Community Center, 50 Canal St., San Rafael CA, 94910.

The biggest celebration is the San Francisco Day of the Dead Ritual Procession, also on November 2, which starts at 7pm. The procession takes you through the Mission with performances and live music. The 34th annual Day of the Dead Ritual Procession begins at Bryant and 22nd St. and welcomes nearly 15,000 people in full costume (think skeletal face paint, black veils, and floral headbands).