One of the most magical fall festivals in the world is Día de los Muertos: a traditional Mexican holiday where families honor death and celebrate life. Held on November 2, it’s believed that deceased relatives reunite with their families on Day of the Dead. The night is filled with music, processions, and candlelit ofrendas (altars) adorned with marigolds, photos, and refreshments.
While Day of the Dead is traditionally a Mexican holiday, there are countless Día de los Muertos festivals held around the world. Many are multi-day festivals, often beginning during or just before Halloween events, and extending through All Saints’ Day (November 1), All Souls’ Day (November 2), and beyond. Each is a reunion celebrating life, love, loss, and family. The holiday is filled with food, drinks, makeup, costumes, incense, candles, flowers, altars, and parades.
The annual Día de los Muertos Marigold Parade and Celebration in South Valley, Albuquerque, New Mexico features a parade of skeletons. The event is inspired by Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada’s early 1900’s portrayal of people as skeletons. This year, the theme for the celebration’s 30th anniversary is ¡Escucha! La Lucha No Es Mañana! (What is your fight?). With landmark cities like Roswell, New Mexico is also one of the best places to celebrate Halloween.
Birmingham, Alabama has been hosting a multi-day Día de los Muertos celebration for two decades. The celebration includes people and pet altars, nightly artist market and food trucks, and a memorial roll call. There is also a procession led by a line brass band, a Frida Kahlo Ceremony to honor the Mexican artist, and Danza Azteca Xochipilli, a traditional Aztec dance and instrumental performance.
Each year, the Breckenridge, Colorado community celebrates Day of the Dead with a multi-day commemoration. The Día de los Muertos festivities, held over three days in the Breckenridge Arts District, include traditional Aztec dancing, ofrendas, a sugar skull making workshop, a Catrina and calacas (skeleton) mask making workshop, and a market selling gifts, ornaments, and pan de muerto.
The 13th annual Florida Day of the Dead begins with a candlelit vigil on November 2 and is a multi-day memorial for the dead and party for the living. The celebration includes food trucks, live music, folk dancers, and painted faces. The festival culminates on November 5 with a procession of costumed revelers through Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
New Orleans celebrates the Day of the Dead with a process presented by the Krewe de Mayahuel, a marching group whose name is the Aztec goddess of the agave plant (agave is a key ingredient in tequila). The fifth annual Mexican Day of the Dead procession includes a rolling altar honoring celebrities and others who have died in the past year and Catrina, a two-story, sombrero-wearing skeleton puppet.
No one celebrates Día de los Muertos like Oaxaca, Mexico. Up to a week before the famous festival in Latin America, there is plenty to see and do. Locals go to nearby cempasuchil (marigold) farms to take pictures and buy the bright orange flowers for Day of the Dead. Businesses decorate their façades with flowers and elaborate altars. Celebrations begin on October 31 with altars, makeup, and locals visiting the graves of their loved ones. On November 1, Oaxaca hosts a massive parade and on the final day, November 2, comparsas (bands of musicians, singers, and dancers) roam about the city playing music and locals process with them to join in the merriment.
On Día de los Muertos, a pathway for the dead to enter the world of the living is made of candles and an archway of marigolds at Tzirumútaro pantheon. Locals gather around Lake Pátzcuaro to snack on pan de muerto, a sweet Mexican bread, and watch the candlelit canoes that welcome the dead at Día de los Muertos at Pátzcuaro.
Haitians celebrate Fèt Gede (Festival of the Dead) every November 1 and 2. Haitians who practice vodou celebrate Fèt Gede, which is rooted in African ancestral traditions. During Fèt Gede, Vodouwizan go to cemeteries to make devotions and perform rituals. The largest is in Port-au-Prince‘s Grand Cimetière. Many vodou practitioners are dressed as gede (spirits of the dead) and perform dances and drink kleren (rum) filled with hot peppers, making for a party onlookers aren’t soon to forget.
Commemoration of Día de los Difuntos (Day of the Deceased) is a more sedate affair in Quito, Ecuador. Families visit gravesites and bring colada morada, a sweet, fruity purple-colored beverage thickened with corn flour, and guaguas de pan, sweetened bread in the shape of babies. Vendors set up by the cemeteries and sell food and goods used to honor the dead and celebrate the living.
For 10 years, runners have been painting their faces and running through town to celebrate Day of the Dead during the Day of the Dead 5K in Raleigh, North Carolina. Oakwood Cemetery and Wilmington Street have altars for runners to leave flowers and notes for their lost ones. For 2022, Trophy Beer has created a Day of the Dead Trophy brew for runners. Proceeds from the event, this year on October 29, 2022, support Brentwood Boys & Girls Club.
Muertos Fest is a free, two-day Day of the Dead parade and celebration that includes live music, artwork, a procession of dancers, drummers and puppets, live poetry, and the largest open-altar exhibition in San Antonio. The 10th annual Muertos Fest is at Hemisfair on October 29-30, 2022.
Each year, the shops, galleries, museums, and restaurants of Old Town San Diego host traditional entertainment, art shows, crafts, sugar skull face painting, and special menus as part of Day of the Dead San Diego. The multi-day celebration includes a Mercado de Arte, 16 ofrendas, and a traditional procession to the El Campo Santo cemetery.
Every November 1, locals honor the dead by flying barriletes gigantes, large colorful kites, over the graves of their loved ones during the Festival de Sumpango. What started as an effort in Sumpango, Guatemala in 1978 to revive the tradition of flying barriletes has grown to a large festival to honor the dead with contests for the best and most beautiful kites.
Beginning in October, the residents of Tonacatepeque, El Salvador, 17 miles from the capital San Salvador, begin preparing for La Calabiuza (skull), or Fiesta del Ayote (pumpkin). Similar to Halloween, children dress as angels and carry candlelit calabazas (squash) and cebadera (woven bags). Revelers gather in José María Villafañe Park on the evening of November 1 to admire costumes and enjoy festive treats like pumpkin sweetened with honey.
Begun in the artist community more than three decades ago, the All Souls Procession is not exclusively a Day of the Dead parade, but it is a strong component of the parade. The two-mile All Souls Procession features a giant urn where parade-goers can place their paper messages before they are burned at the conclusion of the parade. Coordinated by nonprofit Many Mouths One Stomach, the event on November 6, 2022 includes the Ancestors Project in which photos of loved ones are projected during the finale.