Out Of The Archives:
Dia de los Muertos | Day of the Dead

Skull face paint and costume for Day of the Dead in Oakland.
Skull face paint and costume for Day of the Dead in Oakland.

Every year on the weekend closest to November 2, Oakland’s large Latin American community celebrates The Day of the Dead with a street festival in the very Latin neighborhood of Fruitvale. Public altars to the deceased of the community line International Boulevard, mariachi bands play, folk dance troupes perform and much Mexican style food is consumed.

The celebration in Oakland is held in much the same way as the celebrations in Mexico’s big cities.


The Day of the Dead is an ancient celebration that honors the ancestors of the community. While it is celebrated in different ways all over the world, California follows in the Mexican tradition. The celebration lasts over three days – October 31 until November 2. During this time it is believed that the spirits of the deceased walk among and visit with their families over these three days. In the smaller pueblas of Mexico, the celebration can still take on a ritualistic mood as The Day of the Dead takes the festivities out of the home and into the cemeteries of the towns.

To celebrate the visit, the families dedicate a large part of their living rooms to build altars to their deceased relatives. The altars are decorated with offerings of the deceased’s favorite foods and drink and things that they loved. During this time, special breads are made and calaveras – decorated sugar skulls – are exchanged and given to adorn the altars. Also on the altar is a symbol of the four main elements: earth, fire, water, and air/wind.

Earth is symbolized by food items like a bowl of beans and or rice, an ear of corn, or tamales.

Fire is represented by a candle, one for each passed soul in the family.

Water is placed on the altar to give the visiting souls something to drink after their journey.

Air/Wind is represented by something that flutters or is made of paper.

Marigolds are the flower of the day and you will see them profusely decorating the altars.

The Day of the Dead is a beautiful community celebration and one not to be missed if given the opportunity.

October 31 celebrates the memory of children that have passed.
November 1 celebrates the lives of adults who have passed.
November 2 celebrates the ancestors.

Americans tend to confuse the holidays of Halloween and Day of the Dead, seeing them as the same thing. Whereas the American holiday of Halloween is probably derived from the ancient Celtic holiday of Samhain which celebrates the Harvest and Celtic New Year, it was also acknowledged that the veil between our world and the etheric world was thin enough for spirits to pass through. In the current day Halloween celebration participants dress in costumes that represent the spirits of the dead so that the spirits will not be attracted to them and take over their living bodies.

The Day of the Dead is a celebration of family and ancestors and remembrance and is not about Trick or Treat or dressing up in costume, other than to reflect the acceptance of death as a part of life.

One Reply to “Out Of The Archives:
Dia de los Muertos | Day of the Dead”

  1. Oakland’s Día de los Muertos | Day of the Dead 2013 festival date:

    Saturday, November 2nd 2013
    Sábado, 2 de noviembre 2013

    10am – 5pm

    Just take BART to the Fruitvale station and it’s right there!

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