A celebration of life: Dia de los Muertos

Día de los Muertos, traditionally held November 1st, is the perfect celebration for entering into the holiday season. Why? Because at its core, Día (as we call it around here) is about celebrating our deep cultural respect and admiration for our loved ones who have passed on. Just as VIDA’s community is a celebration of art, movement, and culture, so too is Día a celebration of life.

Día is also a way to express appreciation for all the gifts our ancestors passed on to each of us. We celebrate what they loved in life and what they taught us. We retell their stories and look at sepia toned photos of great grandparents, tias and tios, searching for hints of the traits they shared with us. We pause to recall the way they overcame their own hardships and challenges to create lives we can celebrate.

Día may have more resonance in 2021 than any year in recent memory, given the deep pain the pandemic has brought to so many families. It’s an event that gives us all a way to remember that, on some level, our loved ones are still very much with us.

There are many ways to celebrate Día—in and around VIDA—each as unique as our very own family roots. One option is the Día de los Muertos Festival taking place downtown at Hemisfair. This event has been named one of the seven best fall festivals in the United States by National Geographic! It takes place on Saturday October 23rd and Sunday, October 24th. There are altar contests (more on altars below), art vendors, a procession, live poetry and music and so much more.

A celebration of life: Dia de los Muertos

(Image Credit: San Antonio Area Foundation)

The longest standing Día de los Muertos event in the city is Centro Cultural Aztlan 44th annual exhibition, Altares y Ofrendas. Available in both live and virtual presentations, the event illustrates the artistic, cultural, and religious facets of the pre-Columbian Mexican tradition where death is seen as a natural part of life and approached with both humor and a celebration.

Botanical Frida Kahlo sculptures at the San Antonio Botanical Garden

(Image Credit: San Antonio Botanical Garden)

The San Antonio Botanical Garden is honoring the life and death of Frida Kahlo during the final days of the Frida Kahlo Oasis exhibition. On November 1st and 2nd there will be a special ofrenda (altar) along with food and drinks. By the way – don’t miss this exhibit. It’s a beautiful tribute to one of the iconic 20th century artists and the captivating rendition of the artist’s iconic blue home, Casa Azul, lush green sanctuary overflowing with Mexican native plants.

Pan dulce presented on an ofrenda.

(Image Credit: Jennifer Nalewicki, Smithsonian Magazine)

There are more Día events across the city, but you can also celebrate at home. Create your own ofrenda or altar to your departed loved ones. There are several detailed websites (like this one) that will explain the symbols and walk you through the process of creating your own altar. While there are many traditions you can follow, what is important is finding a way for this day to resonate for you. To step beyond the sugar skulls and colorful face paintings (although both are fun), and to take time to remember those you loved and the ones that came before who you may never even have known.

They all, at some time, came together to take part in shaping who you are. They were part of this city, this region, or perhaps they journeyed across oceans to somehow create a path to bring you here: to this moment. This life. They are your cape of personal history and like the decorated sugar skulls at the center of Día celebrations, they are a reminder of the sweetness of life. Something we here in Vida believe is at the heart of who we are.

Be sure to keep informed with updates on our community to learn more about ways to celebrate life and our city’s rich culture at VIDA.

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