Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos in Spanish, is a colorful, celebratory holiday that mixes the macabre with the mundane and the magical. A day to remember, honor and celebrate those family members, friends, pets and even strangers who have passed.

It happens about the same time as Halloween hijinx and mixes some of our spooky shenanigans with Mexican rituals, but, without the fear of those that have moved on. Although ghosts and skeletons play important roles, it is an enchanting and not so creepy portrayal of the un-living. Parties gather in cemeteries, bestowing offerings for those who have moved on.

Primarily a Mexican holiday, Dia de los Muertos in some incarnation, is now celebrated in many countries.

My husband and I hosted many a big blowout Day of the Dead party before having kids. It was an annual affair and we would decorate our garden with lights and build a huge altar, scatter marigolds and make a mean bowl of sangria. One guest brought fixings for a martini and a glass to make and place a cocktail on the altar, in honor of his grandpa. Another brought a stack of magazines for a friend who had died of AIDS. We often leave a lion replica for my niece Maya, who lost her life to Leukemia in 2007. The parties were legendary and I am keen to host one again, although we have decided not to this year.

When we don’t host a party we often go to the parade in the Mission district in San Francisco. This year the festivities are Sunday November 2nd. We paint our faces, march with other skeletons, taking in and participating in the spectacle.

This year, however, my son’s 5th grade class had a trip scheduled to The Mission Cultural Center to experience their Day of the Dead exhibit and view the many altars and installations. I signed up.

I can’t believe I have never been to this place. The space was big and airy and the artwork and soul put into the altars breathtaking. The kids got to walk inside a giant skull and then leave positive messages on the skull. There was a dedication to a Cuban Mambo king, a piano decked out for a grandfather who loved to play and this incredible portrayal of the synergies between those flocking to the U.S. from south of the border and the migration of monarch butterflies. The kids were entranced and the Center, in general, is a gem I would highly recommend for visitors to SF.

If you are interested as a parent, educator or just want to get your skeleton on, Beto and the Bone Dance by Gina Freschet is also a sweet book illustrating the culture that goes into the holiday. It’s a fun book for any age but best for the 5-10 year old set.

Filed Under Books, Family Travel, Mexico, Museum, San Francisco, art, final wishes


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