If you’re not the type who likes to carve pumpkins and dress up like a zombie, here’s a fresh alternatie to the same old Halloween doings: a bit of ancient pre-Columbian custom mixed with some Catholic All Saints’ Day ritual and a dash of contemporary Latin American folk art, adding up to Day of the Dead, a traditional Hispanic holiday that coincides with our Halloween.
In Mexico, El Dia de los Muertos is a major event, a reminder that death is a natural part of life, and that a time set aside for remembering lost loved ones can still be a joyful occasion.
The best-known festivities are in Oaxaca, where families build altars and decorate the gravesides of departed relatives with candles, flowers, food and photos. Tourists flock to the cemeteries along with the locals and vendors sell sugar skulls, skeletal figures and “dead bread.” It’s a grand reunion of the dead with the living, a celebration of the ongoing cycle of life.
But you don’t have to fly down to Mexico for a real Day of the Dead experience. At Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles, the Dia de los Muertos Celebration will take place from 4 to 11 p.m. Nov. 1. There will be food, crafts, music and community altars. More information: (323) 447-0999 or
Not far from the cemetery is Olvera Street, the Mexican heart of downtown L.A., where local folks have nine days of fiesta, peaking with plenty of music, dancing, puppet shows and processions Nov. 1. More information: (213) 716-1373 or
On that same Saturday evening, closer to home, the California Center for the Arts in Escondido invites everyone to bring mementos of loved ones and make their own altars as part of an installation called “Death Comes to Everyone: A Participatory Offering.” First created in 1995 by Mexico City artist Eloy Tarcisio, this has become one of the Center’s most popular annual events and includes music, children’s crafts and Mexican refreshments. More information: (760) 839-4120 or
And then there’s Oceanside. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 2, Main Street Oceanside presents a colorful street festival that events coordinator Cathy Nykiel said has been called “the most authentic Dia de los Muertos in California.”
“In 2001, our first year, we had 500 people,” Nykiel said. “Last year we had 50,000. We have all the components except the cemetery.”
Actually, there is a kind of cemetery - a “chalk cemetery,” where you can sketch your own altars to your own loved ones. There are also more than 20 community altars, continuous entertainment, hands-on crafts and a parade. More information: (760) 754-4512 or
A small but mighty exhibit called “Boxes” will be on display at La Jolla’s Athenaeum Music & Arts Library. Whimsical dioramas by local artist Grace Matthews memorialize family, friends and famous favorites like Ray Charles and Georgia O’Keefe in Day of the Dead style. More information: (858) 454-5872 or
Last but definitely not least is Ruby Lang’s installation at Solo, in the Cedros Design District. This is Lang’s sixth Day of the Dead piece for the Solana Beach store.
“The first one I did was for my mother, who died when I was very young,” Lang said. “The hardest one I did was for animals. One of my dogs had just died and the other was in the process of dying. I asked people to contribute pictures of pets they had loved and lost.”
This year, Lang says her theme will be “Circle of Friends,” in memory of a good friend who died recently.
“I’ll use all the traditional elements, like flowers, fruit and candles, but everything will be circular, and you’ll be able to walk around it,” Lang said.
The opening on Oct. 25, from 6 to 8 p.m., will include music and refreshments, but the installation will remain on view through Nov. 2. More information: (858) 232-9989 or 858-794-9016.