Gaining ground on Cinco de Mayo in terms of crossover cultural appeal, Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a vibrant Mexican celebration that has yet to be misappropriated.
Traditionally, the family-centric holiday is marked by cemetery vigils. Deceased loved ones are honored with personal ofrendas (altars) containing photos and mementos, favorite foods and drinks, and bright marigold petals - all to beckon and guide ancestors’ spirits to return and visit the living. For many, Día de los Muertos customs provide the opportunity to rejoice in the living memories of loved ones.
Latina educator Beatriz Villarreal, who will emcee a Día de los Muertos event in Encinitas, says the holiday “is an important way to celebrate our culture and serves as an educational resource, teaching people around the world about our traditions.”
Following, in chronological order, are some of the largest Day of the Dead celebrations around San Diego County this week. For Cinco de Mayo fans, sorry, but you won’t find a craft beer garden in the bunch.
Old Town’s Día de los Muertos
With last year’s attendance estimated at 75,000 over three days, this is the county’s largest Day of the Dead celebration. All are invited to participate by adding their own mementos and photos to the community altar, and to join in the candlelit procession (fire-burning candles not permitted), which departs at 6 p.m. Monday from San Diego Avenue (at Twiggs Street), en route to El Campo Santo cemetery. Entertainment and activities continue throughout the park until 9 p.m. all days. The full schedule of entertainment and activities is posted on their website. Saturday through Monday at Old Town San Diego State Historic Park and surrounding areas. Admission is free; nominal fee for some activities. (619) 233-5008 or dayofthedeadsd.com
21st annual Sherman Heights Día de los Muertos Celebrations
On Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., the Día de los Muertos festival begins with a blessing of community altars, followed by live performances, altar tours and Day of the Dead-themed workshops. On Sunday, from 9 to 11 a.m., guests are invited to join Desayuno con los Muertos, a community breakfast with traditional foods; cost varies by item. On Tuesday, promptly at sundown (about 6 p.m.), the annual Muertos Candlelight Procession departs from the Sherman Heights Community Center, heading to the historic Chicano Park in Barrio Logan. Participants are invited to bring a candle and/or pictures of departed loved ones and march in their memory. Wearing traditional face paint and/or costumes is encouraged. Saturday through Monday. Sherman Heights Community Center, 2258 Island Ave., Sherman Heights. Admission is free. facebook.com/DDLMSanDiego
Día de los Muertos Festival
Honoring the spiritual journey of deceased loved ones in a celebration with altars, food, music and entertainment, this daylong event will feature performances by Grammy Award-winning band Quetzal and nationally recognized comedy troupe Teatro Izcalli. Live entertainment also includes dance performances, mariachi bands and more. Five indigenous tribes from Mexico will build authentic Day of the Dead altars, and more than 150 low-rider cars will display tributes to ancestors. Noon to 9 p.m. Sunday. Market Creek Amphitheater & Festival Park, 310 Euclid Ave., San Diego. Admission is free; parking is free at the Joe & Vi Jacobs Center at 404 Euclid Ave. jacobspresents.com or izcalli.org
Encinitas Día de los Muertos
Folkloric group Danza Azteca Yolotli starts the celebration with a danced blessing of the ofrenda (altar). Additional performers include mariachi and ballet folklorico groups and Latin jazz trio Besos de Coco. Por Siempre Car Club members will display ofrendas in their autos’ trunks. The event includes art-making workshops for children and ends with a Catrina contest and opportunity drawing. Food trucks and vendors will be on hand with refreshments and merchandise for purchase. 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. Encinitas Community Center, 1140 Oakcrest Park Drive, Encinitas. Admission is free. (760) 633-2746 or encinitasarts.org
20th annual Día de los Muertos Community Festival
The celebration will feature performances by Son de San Diego and Mariachi Divinas. Traditional arts and crafts activities and face-painting will be available at no cost, and community members can create their own personal ofrenda space in remembrance of loved ones. A special exhibition curated by David Avalos, “Re-membering Our Ancestors: Discovering Ourselves,” includes a variety of works by Southern California artists and will be on display through Nov. 22 (except on Nov. 1, general admission to the museum is $8). Refreshments will be available for purchase. 6 to 9 p.m. Sunday. California Center for the Arts, Escondido , 340 N. Escondido Blvd., Escondido. Admission is free. (760) 839-4186 or artcenter.org
Seventh annual Día de los Muertos
This spirited celebration of the traditional Latin American holiday will feature music, theater and art, a runway fashion show and folk dancing. Altar and Catrina contests will be held, with the chance to win up to $1,000. A variety of vendors will offer food and gift items for sale. Noon Sunday. La Vista Memorial Park, 3191 Orange St., National City. Admission is free. (619) 787-9560 or email email@example.com