“. . . [I]n the world nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes.” ―Benjamin Franklin, Letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, 1789
Fast forward some two hundred twenty-five years later, the popular phrase by Franklin is still pretty accurate. Taxes are not going away anytime soon (for better or worse) and death―as we all know―is inevitable. I know, major plot twist, right? But what is it about death that has piqued mankind’s interest? Is it the unknown and mysterious? Is it the prospect of a better afterlife? Where’s Franklin when you need him to answer all the hard-hitting questions? Oh, yeah . . . never mind.
Cultures all over the world have long been celebrating the deceased through various practices. Buddhists in Japan, for example, celebrate Obon (known as the Festival of Lanterns) with traditional foods placed on home altars. Lanterns are hung outside houses to help guide the visiting spirits back home. At the end of the celebration, the lanterns are placed in rivers or lakes to help guide the spirits back to rest. The Aztecs also celebrated the dead in their own right before the Spanish conquistadors came around. While there are notable differences in practices throughout the world, there are commonalities among many cultures too. Altars, or ofrendas (offerings) as we call them in Mexican tradition, are common, as well as food and drink.
Día de los Muertos―officially celebrated on All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day―is a holiday widely celebrated in Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries. The holiday honors those who have passed and celebrates the return of the spirits. Pictures, food, drink, flowers, and other items the deceased enjoyed are presented in the form of an altar. Sugar skulls and pan de muerto are also staples in many altars. By building these altars, the spirits of the deceased can come back and enjoy their temporary return to the physical world with their families. The celebration focuses on the positive aspect of death and the afterlife rather than the somber, mournful aspect.
If you’d like to attend a Día de los Muertos celebration, there are many great family friendly events to check out. [Do210 has a great list here.] We haven’t been to all of the celebrations around town, but we are most familiar with the celebration at La Villita.
Known as Muertos Fest, the city’s largest Día de los Muertos celebration at La Villita Historic Arts Village is a must for everyone, even if you’ve already been. The two-day celebration features an altar exhibition and contest; a living altar; dance, drum, and puppet procession; live music and poetry; and over 50 vendors. The event draws huge crowds and offers something for everyone. It’s a great cultural experience for the kids too!
We really enjoyed the altar exhibition at last year’s celebration. When you see the tremendous amount of work and detail the altar builders put into creating their altars, you realize what a testament it is to their love and admiration for that deceased person, even if the altar builder didn’t personally know him or her. The opportunity to glimpse into the former lives of the deceased is something quite special. When you stand before an altar and take a moment to reflect on the life this person lived, on the things they loved and enjoyed, and the people who loved them back, you feel a connection with them too, even if just for a brief moment.
[Take a look at altars from previous events here.]
We had the opportunity to create our own altar inside the BarbacoApparel booth. And you know us, we used fideo boxes, tortillas, Big Red, Jarritos, Ranch Style beans, chicles, and other mementos that reminded us of San Antonio and our childhoods. We had a fun time and were glad we could share the altar with San Antonio. If you'd like to learn more about altar building, Casa Navarro State Historic Site is hosting a free altar workshop on October 27.
What’s a celebration without a little musica? Local bands and musicians like Piñata Protest and Nina Diaz rocked the Arneson River Theater at last year’s event. This year the lineup will include Girl in a Coma, Master Blaster Sound System, Los De Esta Noche, Zombie Bazaar Belly Dance, Austin's Chulita Vinyl Club, and more―so be ready para bailar and show off those moves.
[Check out the full music lineup for 2015.]
What about shopping? La Villita Historic Arts Village offers an array of shops and galleries that are open year-round. At the celebration, you can expect a diverse group of vendors ready to present their wares, and plenty of Día de los Muertos–themed items will be on hand too. Last year we debuted our Calaca Colorado and Friends Till The End art prints and tee. This year we'll be unveiling new apparel and prints, so stop by and check us out!
[Check out the full list of vendors for 2015.]
We had a blast at last year’s event―probably none more so than our own Catherine Contreras, who dressed up as El Chapulín Colorado [#goodtimes]―and we look forward to this year’s celebration. Will Catherine dress up again this year? Guess you’ll have to come out and see!
Día de los Muertos at La Villita Historic Arts Village takes place on Saturday, October 24 from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Sunday, October 25 from 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. Visit the official website for more details.