Day of the Dead: A Mexican Halloween

While most of San Diego will still be recovering from the festivities of Halloween, others will be celebrating another holiday the very next day: the Mexican Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, which is traditionally celebrated over Nov. 1 and Nov. 2.

The Day of the Dead is broadly described as a day for families to remember their deceased loved ones, and while this has remained a very traditional (and, compared to Halloween, a much less commercial) holiday, it is by no means a somber occasion. The festivities, while varying greatly throughout different parts of Mexico, usually include such components as crafting and decorating elaborate altars, preparing an abundance of food for picnics in the cemetery, and other religious rites. Offerings of the deceased relative’s favorite foods and drinks are displayed at the altar, since their spirits are believed to journey home from the afterlife for this occasion.

There is nothing morbid about the holiday; on the contrary, the altars and the decorations are ornate and colorful. In short, while there is time set aside for quiet remembrance at the graves of the deceased, this is a social, festive celebration of the lives of the departed rather than a celebration centered around death.

Some San Diego residents celebrated the Day of the Dead early: The Sherman Heights Community Center devoted Oct. 25 and 26 to celebrating Dia de los Muertos. Festivities started on Oct. 25, with local residents of Mexican heritage bringing over 14 homemade altars. At noon on Oct. 26, the altars were blessed with Aztec dances from the Danza Toltecas en Aztlan dance company, and the remainder of the weekend consisted of several workshops (including one teaching how to decorate sugar skulls), a tour of house altars and a large quantity of traditional Mexican food, including the pan de muertos.

“”The event attracted a pretty diverse crowd,”” said Merle Preston, coordinator of arts and cultural programs for the Sherman Heights Community Center. Preston estimated that the event attracted around 1,000 people over the course of the weekend.

Preston gave community members credit for much of the celebration’s success, explaining that they decorated and made the altars, and sold the food.

“”It was a very traditional day of the dead, and [community members] made offerings [in the workshops] that you would put on the altars,”” Preston said.

For those who missed last weekend’s fun, however, it’s not too late — more festivities will be held on the Day of the Dead proper, with an evening celebration at the San Diego Chicano Park under the Coronado Bay Bridge from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Nov. 1, as well as a caravan tour of altars in the San Diego area departing from the Sherman Heights Community Center at 4 p.m. on Nov. 2. For $5 ticket reservations, call (619) 264-4083.

Day of the Dead

San Diego Chicano Park

Nov. 1

6 p.m. to 9 p.m.