Yes, Day of the Dead starts at Halloween, but the two celebrations have little in common. Halloween, based on Irish traditions, warns that the dead will rise. Always pragmatic, the Irish felt you needed to build bonfires, carve turnips into scary faces and wear costumes to keep the dead at bay.
But El Dia de los Muertos looks at death as something to be celebrated, not feared. As such the dead are actually invited to drop by for a visit, a little conversation and maybe a quick meal and shot of tequilla.
In Mexico, the streets near the cemeteries are filled with decorations of papel picado, flowers, candy calaveras (skeletons and skulls), and parades. To celebrate the dead families construct altars in their homes, and place offrendas, or offerings, of food such as pan de muertos, baked in shapes of skulls and figures, as well as candles, incense, yellow marigolds and, most importantly, a photo of the departed soul. There might be a visit to the local cemetery for a picnic.
This is an old-school Mexican holiday. During the time of the Aztecs, a month-long summer celebration was overseen by the goddess Mictecacihuatl, the Lady of the Dead. After the Aztecs were conquered by Spain and Catholicism became the dominant religion, the customs became intertwined with the Christian commemoration of All Saints' Day on Nov. 1
How can you celebrate here in Denver?
Stop by the Chicano Humanities and Arts Council Gallery and check out their Dia de los Muertos artwork in various mediums, now through Nov. 3. A FREE reception is on Friday Nov. 2nd, from 5-10PM. Aztec Dancers begin promptly at 6PM. Show features artwork and altars created by local artists and schools, an extensive collection of Dia de los Muertos merchandise in their sales shop, La Tiendita. Some of my favorite art acquisitions come from this gallery (at very affordable prices). Among my favorite is Dia de los Muertos art created by school children. Don't miss it.. 772 Santa Fe Drive, Denver.
Down the street Museo de las Americas will celebrate Dia de los Muertos by featuring a traditional altar with offrendas "offerings" prepared by Executive Director, Maruca Salazar. FREE admission on Nov. 2. This special installation will continue into the eve of First Friday festivities on Friday, Nov. 2. Make sugar skulls from 5-7PM! 861 Santa Fe Drive, Denver.
Also, the Fiesta Colorado Dance Company which presents a stage production of death, love and life in"El Dia de Los Muertos" on Friday Nov. 2. Experience a colorful,spiritual and intimate evening of dancing skeletons and traditional folkloric dance. Shows at 7PM and 8:30PM. Tix are only $5-10. Su Teatro Cultural & Performing Arts Cente, 721 Santa Fe Drive, Denver.
Across town at Pirate: Contemporary Art you can expect their annual Day of the Dead exhibit to be a crowd pleaser. This year it runs through Nov. 11 and the official reception will be from 6-10PM on Friday, Nov. 2. Aztec Dancers, a candlelight procession and pinatas are part of the fun. FREE admission.
Last but not least, Funky Buddha celebrates Dia de los Muertos on Friday, Nov. 2, starting at 8PM. Sleep (of The Chicharones), Dirty Little Thieves, Maulskull, Aklock, AG Flux, Mane Rok & DeeJay Tense, TimeLine (of Pretty Ugly), Rhyme Progression, DeeJay Diabolic, BullHead*ded, Raph, Milogic. FREE, but you have to be 21 and over. 776 Lincoln St., Denver.