Although images of skeletons, skulls, and coffins dominate the decorations for both Halloween and Día de los Muertos, Day of the Dead celebrations favor honoring deceased loved ones over candy-fueled parties and kiddie costume parades. The tradition spans on two days of posthumous tributes including altars, gatherings, and loving offerings. Music, food, and festive processions all play a part in this annual ritual commemorating life and embracing death.
Originally an Aztec holiday dedicated to the immortal rulers of the underworld—Mictlantecuhtli and Mictecacíhuatl—Día de los Muertos was later merged with the Catholic holidays of All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days upon the arrival of Spanish colonials. Today, many Latin American countries host a multi-day celebration that coincides with the yearly harvest: November 1 is Día de los Inocentes, marking the day that the spirits of children return to their grieving families; and the adult spirit-focused Día de los Muertos on November 2.
Family and friends decorate altars, or ofrendas, with special items favored by the deceased, including food, drinks, clothing, and photos. Candles and marigolds illuminate the sites along with tissue paper cutouts called papel picado. These days of remembrance take place in cemeteries, but processions and parties also happen at churches and in homes. And in the United States, the widespread Latinx diaspora also gets in on the action. Here are some of the best Día de los Muertos observances North of the border, open to all who’d like to raise a glass to their beloved lost loved ones.
San Antonio, Texas
San Antonio is a major melting pot, with Native American, Spanish, French, and German influences leaving their mark on the city. But the Latin American culture here might just be the most prominent, especially in the La Villita Historic Arts Village, set just off the RiverWalk. This district’s Day of the Dead is loud, energetic, and totally infectious, highlighted by the River Parade’s more than 20 floats and barges, Calaveras skulls designed by local artists, giant puppets, skeleton drummers banging out dance beats, and participants sporting costumes like La Catrina, the iconic skeleton first drawn by illustrator Jose Guadalupe Posada in Mexico around 1910. The smell of burning incense fills the air, and a beautiful fleet of stunning altars cast their glow as the festival marches on.
Cost: Free (seated tickets run $22 to $27)