Día de los Muertos in San Antonio: Celebrating Those Who Have Passed On

You might have noticed catrinas and sugar skulls everywhere lately. That’s because Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is on November 2. Celebrations generally begin on November 1 for Día de los Inocentes, a day to honor children and infants who have passed away. Originating in Mexico, the holidays are a blending of Aztec and Catholic traditions dating back for centuries.

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This year has been tough. I lost my father in March and my cat of 18 years, Liono, in July. My close friend lost her father in June and another close friend lost a dear uncle in June as well. For all these reasons, Día de los Muertos, a holiday that serves as a remembrance and celebration of those who have passed on, has special meaning for me this year. To be honest, it’s one of my favorite holidays because it gives us all a chance to reflect on life and enliven the memories of our loved ones. It’s about the spiritual journey for those who have died and those still living. Above all, it’s meant to be a joyous occasion and not mournful.

Many people choose to honor their loved ones by assembling an altar with photos and other memories such as the favorite foods and drinks and personal effects of those who are no longer with us. On many altars, you’ll also find papel picado, incense, candles, marigolds, pan de muerto, and sugar skulls all representing the afterlife. You can learn more about making an altar in this post by Marisa. Some families visit the gravesite of their loved ones and take favorite foods and drinks to share a meal at their resting place.

If you’re looking for something fun to share with your kids to teach them about Día de los Muertos, you might want to check out the popular animated film The Book of Life that came out in 2014. I also found this animated short on YouTube and shared it with my son.

Local Events

San Antonio is quickly becoming packed with celebrations honoring Day of the Dead, so we’ve put together a list of local organizations and festivities you can check out:

Thursday, October 27

Día de los Muertos, 6:00–9:00 P.M. at Centro de Artes—Exhibit including altars honoring Manny Castillo, Elvira Cisneros, Adina De Zavala, Rosita Fernández, Juan Gabriel, Emilio Naviara, Selena Quintanilla Perez, and Emma Tenayuca, all assembled by San Antonio artists.

Saturday, October 29

Altar Workshop, 10:00 A.M.–2:00 P.M. at Casa Navarro State Historic Site—Join Casa Navarro for a crafting and learning workshop. All craft supplies will be provided for making portable altars and dichos. Please bring a copy of a photo of a deceased loved one. Free admission, donations accepted.

Bootanica: Día de los Muertos, 10:00 A.M.–2:00 P.M. at San Antonio Botanical Garden—Celebrate autumn at the Garden with fun, hands-on activities. Included with general admission. Members enjoy this program for free.

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Sugar skulls

Kids’ Workshop presented by Chef Cariño Cortez, 10:30 A.M.–12:00 P.M. at Viva Villa Taqueria—Children ages 5 and up can learn the festive traditions of Día de los Muertos through story telling, food, and a hands-on activity. Kids will shape their own pan de muerto sweet bread to enjoy with hot chocolate and decorate sugar skulls. A fun, educational talk by guest speaker Sarah Gould will help children learn the meaning behind the food and decorations associated with the Mexican holiday.

Día de los Muertos Festival, 5:00–10:00 P.M. at New Braunfels Farmers Market—This cultural event will feature food, drinks, arts & crafts, vendor booths, shopping, and live entertainment. Music line up features mariachi, folklorico dancers, and Tejano superstar Patsy Torres. Free.

October 29-30

Día de los Muertos Celebration, Saturday 10:00 A.M.–11:00 P.M. and Sunday 12:00–10:00 P.M. at La Villita Historic Arts Village—Bringing together traditional art and culture with the best in live music entertainment to create a two-day destination event that hosts a variety of activities including the largest open altar exhibition in the city. Original Day of the Dead art, living altar, dance, drum and puppet procession, live poetry, and more. Free.

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Las Monas procession at Historic Market Square

Día de los Muertos, Saturday and Sunday 12:00–6:00 P.M. at Historic Market Square—Join us with a venue-wide celebration with live music from Ruben V and Villela. There will be activities going on all around Market Square including a dance procession by Las Monas on Saturday at 5:00 P.M. and Sunday at 1:00 P.M. Free.

Sunday, October 30

Free Outdoor Movie: The Book of Life, 7:00 P.M. at La Villita Historic Arts Village—The screening will take place in Maverick Plaza in conjunction with the two-day Muertos Fest at La Villita. Free.

Tuesday, November 1

Viva Mi Cultura, 10:00–11:00 A.M. at Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center—Lecture demonstration featuring members of the Guadalupe Dance Company presenting the traditional dances, costumes, and music of Mexico and Spain. School groups and individuals alike are encouraged to attend. Reservations must be made in order to secure admission. Admission is $3 each person for schools and $5 for the general public.

Día de los Muertos, 4:00–10:00 P.M. at Rinconcito de Esperanza—There will be displays of community altars, live music, face painting for children, and a procession through the neighborhood. The evening will highlight readings of literary ofrendas to remember our dead, and calavera poems that poke fun at the living and their untimely encounters with La Muerte or La Catrina. Everyone will enjoy hot chocolate, tamales, and the traditional pan de muerto. Free.

Fandango & Barrio Procession, 6:00–9:00 P.M. at San Anto Cultural Arts—Meet at San Anto Cultural Arts at 6:00 P.M. for the procession to the Peace and Remembrance mural as we add the name of a loved community member lost to violence. There will be face painting, pan dulce, and more. Then head back and celebrate our muertitos with music, dance and pozole. Fandango to commemorate our departed loved ones. Free.

Wednesday, November 2

Día de los Muertos, 5:00–9:30 P.M. at Mexican Cultural Institute—Altars dedicated to Juan Gabriel, Sally Buchanan, and Emilio Navaira will be on display. Performances by Urban 15 and Compañía de Danza Guadalupe and music from DJ Toko. Plus, enjoy the tasting of tamales, pan de muerto, and chocolate. Free.

November 2-9

Altares y Ofrendas at Centro Cultural Aztlan—Since 1977, Centro has opened its doors to tourists and residents to take part in San Antonio’s biggest and oldest Día de los Muertos celebration. Artists are invited to create altars and help facilitate a dialogue that examines the history and traditions of this cultural festivity. Opening reception is Nov. 2 from 6:00 to 9:00 P.M. Shop for special Día de los Muertos creations from some of San Antonio’s most talented artists and artisans in the Avenida de los Artesanos. Dance to the drum rhythms of the URBAN-15’s Carnaval de los Muertos dance troupe. Suggested admission is $3. Exhibit can be viewed Monday through Friday, 9:00 A.M.–5:00 P.M., until November 9.

November 3-5

Muertitos Fest at SAY Sí—Three days of unique cultural happenings, including an exhibition of student art, folk art exhibits, altars, family folk art workshops, food booths, an artisan mercado, and live multidisciplinary performances. With this year’s theme, “Fronteras de la Tierra y Cielos (Borders of the Earth & Heavens),” artwork, installations, altars, and performances will focus on the connections between the living and those who have passed. SAY Sí will also bring an international perspective to the holiday through a creative collaboration with Prayasam, a youth organization from Kolkata, India. For Muertitos Fest Opening Night fundraiser (November 3), tickets are $35 pre-sale, $40 at the door. Muertitos Fest First Friday (November 4) and Family Day (November 5) are free and open to the public. 

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Altar at Centro Cultural Aztlan

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