Both Halloween and Día de los Muertos recognize a cultural fascination with life, death, afterlife, and the spiritually blurred lines between. While Halloween, a Christian celebration of saints with roots in Celtic and Roman tradition, has been essentially watered down to candy, costume contests and drinking, the Catholic Día de los Muertos celebrations seem to have retained more of the “spirit” of the occasion.
The purpose behind the altar tradition as a way to honor and celebrate a dead loved one, for instance, is far better known than the origins of the jack-o’-lantern. At least in San Antonio. [See event listings below.]
The city’s long historical and cultural connection to Mexico – and its physical proximity – make San Antonio one the best, most authentic places to celebrate Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. Parties and ceremonies ranging from traditional to modern take place throughout the city in community centers, night clubs, public parks, art galleries, and backyards.
“It’s a citywide celebration that has taken different shapes and forms to be more accessible and a participatory celebration,” said Felix Padrón, director of the City’s Department of Culture and Creative Development (DCCD). “It’s really the work of the community.”
Centro Cultural Aztlan, Padrón said, led the way to proliferating the holiday throughout the city more than 30 years ago. Their organized celebration, SA Calaveras, is among the more traditional celebrations celebrated annually on Nov. 2 along with Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center‘s ceremonies.
Say Sí, the nonprofit, multidisciplinary arts education center, also hosts a weekend-long artistic and cultural celebration starting the evening of Oct. 31. Market Square hosts additional vendors and a costumed drum procession.
“There is a little bit for everybody,” Padrón said. “In that spirit of continuing to expose the experience of the day for as many people as possible,” it has become Days of the Dead locally.
Día de los Muertos Celebration, La Villita’s event organized by La Villita Historic Arts Village, the DCCD, and Puro Pinche, is no exception – its proximity to local artist shops and spacious plaza has made it one of the more popular celebrations in downtown San Antonio. La Villita will extend its programming reach to a younger crowd this year with the addition of Puro Pinche – the event promotion and planning brainchild of San Antonio native Stephanie Guerra.
[Update: Puro Pinche is no longer involved with La Villita's Día de los Muertos Celebration, but the programming will continue as planned.]
Puro Pinche’s website, Facebook page, and Twitter @PuroPincheSA has become a reliable and popular source for twenty somethings and beyond to find daily happenings in San Antonio – mostly of a musical variety, but also includes art shows, film, recreational, and cultural events.
In addition to the La Villita celebration’s local art vendors, traditional music and food options, Guerra and her associates have planned out more art, free music during the two-day festival, larger but affordable concerts in adjacent Arneson River Theatre, and an altar contest to bring even more of the traditional celebration to downtown.
“We’re a bigger market for (Day of the Dead celebrations) than Austin, but we haven’t capitalized on it as far getting more people together to celebrate,” Guerra said. “If you didn’t grow up in that culture, you don’t really know how to participate … (past) celebrations tend to be more traditional in the sense of a religious or cultural thing – we want to focus on making it a community event, you have to be from Mexico or Catholic, everyone can celebrate this awesome cultural event.”
There will also be an educational component to La Villita’s programming with hands-on workshops like sugar-skull decorating and informational talks.
While several local artists have signed up for the Community Altar Exhibition and Contest, it’s really for anyone or any group (not just professional artists) that wants to prominently display their homage to a loved one, celebrity, or anyone/thing they like Guerra said.
The $30 registration fee is refundable and is really just a way to reserve a spot and ensure that people actually show up on Nov. 1 to build their altar. First place will receive $2,000. Registration closes this Friday, Oct. 18. Visit www.muertosfest.com/altars for details, rules, and registration information.
The contest is sponsored by The Current and inspired by Los Angeles’ Day of the Dead celebration in Hollywood Forever Ceremony. Faith Radle, who is working with festival organizers, brought the idea to the table from her years living in California.
“The thing that makes it magical is the fact that they have this giant altar exhibition contest that’s open to the public,” Radle said of her experience at the cemetery. “I was impressed by the engagement, people really get into it – you get some artists and you get just family members … it sets the mood for the celebration. It’s not just a display, it’s people engaging.”
There will also be a living altar around the fountain in Maverick Plaza – anyone can bring a photo, object or decoration to add to the hodgepodge shrine.
“There are lots of events going on all over the city, but this is really the best downtown option and it’s two days so you can visit La Villita one day and do something else on another,” Radle said.
Free music will be played in the plaza throughout the day which includes traditional and more modern bands and artists. Ticketed concerts are on Friday ($18) and Saturday ($13) nights and include headliners: The Texas Tornados, Neon Indian (DJ Set), La Santa Cecilia and Los Texmaniacs. “It is younger, it is more modern, but it’s still within the spirit of the day,” she said.
Below is a schedule of Day(s) of the Dead celebrations, I’ll be adding to it once I stumble upon more, so be sure to check back while you’re planning your weekend.
But apparently, Día de los Muertos is not really something you have to “go” to, rather, it’s something that you’re already in. So I’ll see you there.
Thursday, Oct. 31
7:30-10:30 p.m. SAY SÍ: Muertitos Fest Fiesta Opening Night Fundraiser. grand celebration of Jose Guadalupe Posada on the 100th anniversary of his death. This evening will feature a rare exhibition of some of Posada’s original hand-pulled etchings. Art, live music, poetry, food. Tickets $25 pre-sale, $35 at the door.
9 a.m. 4 p.m. SOUTHWEST SCHOOL OF ART: Artist Adriana Corral creates an altar to honor the memory of loved ones for the annual Dia de los Muertos celebration. The art school community is invited to add personal offerings. The exhibition runs Oct. 29 – Nov. 3, 2013. FREE.
Friday, Nov. 1 (a.k.a. First Friday)
3-9 p.m. LA VILLITA: Original Day of the Dead art; living altar; dance, drum and puppet procession; live poetry and more. 418 Villita St. FREE.
6-11 p.m. ARNESON RIVER THEATRE: Puro Pinche presents Texas Tornados, Neon Indian (DJ set), T-Bird & The Breaks, and Blackbird Sing. Tickets: $18.
6-9 p.m. CENTRO CULTURAL AZTLAN: Spirit procession, lowrider trunk altars, community altars, live music/performances, artisan market. Deco Building at 1800 Fredericksburg Road. FREE.
6-? p.m. ESPERANZA PEACE AND JUSTICE CENTER: Live music, calaveras literarias (poems), games, food and altars and more will all be a part of this near Westside community event. Rinconcito de Esperanza, 816 S. Colorado. FREE.
6-10 p.m. SAY SÍ: Muertitos Fest Frist Friday. Music, theatre, dance. 1518 South Alamo St. FREE.
6-10 p.m. COMMANDER’S HOUSE: Dia de los Muertos Masquerade Dance with the Dead.Attendees are invited to embrace the spirit of the event by participating in a masquerade contest while dancing the night away to the music of the Mark Perales Band and Sam Renteria. A meal, provided by Javier’s Catering, is included for $10 per person.
Saturday, Nov. 2
Noon- 6p.m. MARKET SQUARE: Celebration with vendors, dance-and-drum puppet procession. 514 W. Commerce St. FREE.
Noon-6 p.m. LA VILLITA: Original Day of the Dead art; living altar; altar contest; dance, drum and puppet procession; live poetry and more. 418 Villita St. FREE.
Noon-3 p.m. SAY SÍ: Muertitos Fest Family Day. Folk art workshops, artisan market, theatre, dance and more. 1518 South Alamo St. FREE.
6-9 p.m. GUADALUPE CULTURAL ARTS: Workshops, community altars, traditional dancing, face painting, music and more. FREE.
3-9 p.m. CENTRO CULTURAL AZTLAN: Spirit procession, lowrider trunk altars, community altars, live music/performances, artisan market. Deco Building at 1800 Fredericksburg Road. FREE.
6-11 p.m. ARNESON RIVER THEATRE: Puro Pinche presents La Santa Cecilia, Los Texmaniacs, Bombasta, Money Chicha, and more. Tickets: $13.
Sunday, Nov. 3
Noon- 6p.m. MARKET SQUARE: Celebration with vendors, dance-and-drum procession. 514 W. Commerce St. FREE.
More events can be found at Centro Cultural Aztlan’s Día de los Muertos community event calendar at www.sacalaveras.com.