Arizona · Halloween Town

Halloween Town: Dia de los Muertos

Despite early settlers attempts to “civilize” the natives with Christian tradition, Dia de los Muertos—or Day of the Dead—is still one of the most widely celebrated holidays in all of Mexico. And in the Valley of the Sun, too, so it would seem.

Although Dia de los Muertos is closely associated with Halloween, the holidays have very little in common, beyond the feasting and the partying. Dia de los Muertos officially occurs not on October 31, but on November 2, in connection with the Catholic All Saints’ Day (November 1) and All Souls’ Day (November 2).

It’s all about honoring your ancestors. People don wooden skull masks (“calacas”) and dance around. They build full altars to the dead, meant to remember and pay homage to those gone—a good idea, especially since many ancient celebrators of the Day of the Dead believe spirits come back to visit the living on this hallowed day.

Dia de los Muertos is also about visiting cemeteries—in effect, visiting your dead relatives—and decorating their graves with flowers and candles. One source suggested bringing a bottle of tequila to leave behind for the dead. (Do you think old Aunt Myrtle would mind if I took a tiny sip?) It’s an all-day thing. You sit on a blanket, have a kind of picnic, and eat your dead relative’s favorite dish.

Maybe you think this is morbid, but look at it from the perspective of native Mexican people. To them, death was not the end of life; it was a continuation of life. Instead of fearing death, they embraced it. To them, life was a dream and only in death did they become truly awake. When you look at it that way, you can see how this event turns into a big party by the end of the day!

Since we’re so close to Mexico here in AZ, there are countless Dia de los Muertos celebrations going on in the Valley of the Sun. Here’s a mere smattering:

  • Dia de los Muertos. Mesa Arts Center, Mesa, AZ. October 30–31. “Join the arts center for its fourth annual Dia de los Muertos Festival, Saturday and Sunday.  Mesa Arts Center ignites in a celebration of departed loved ones in the traditional manner observed for centuries in towns across Mexico.  The Mercado features vibrant colors, an assortment of traditional and contemporary merchandise, jewelry, Mexican arts & crafts, and more from local artisans and vendors.  Live entertainment, food, family, and fun will be abundant!”
  • Dia de los Muertos. Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, AZ. October 30–31. “Come to the Garden for Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos, a colorful tradition that honors and celebrates departed loved ones in a festival setting. Enjoy entertainment that will bring the history of the holiday to life with song, dance, and storytelling. Festivities culminate with La Procesión. Experience the Desert Botanical Garden’s interactive altar honoring Día de los Muertos. Delicious Mexican food, pastries, and beautiful Mexican art will be available for purchase in the Gardens Mercado.”

I’m not suggesting you obsess over dead people for the day. But—especially if you live in the valley—you should definitely take a look into the famous celebration of the country downstairs. And why not? There’s gonna be good food, cool masks, and creepy altars. What’s not to like? And it never hurts to commune with your dead relatives and friends. Let’s face it: we miss them. So in memory of Papa Dobie, Grandma Dobie, Uncle Barney, Christa, and Simon the Cat, I’ll see you this weekend for Dia de los Muertos.