Dia de los Muertos—the Day of the Dead—is a holiday celebrated throughout Latin America on November 1. The tradition originated in Mexico.
Dia de los Muertos honors the dead with festivals and celebrations. The holiday is celebrated on All Saints Day and All Souls Day, minor holiday in the Catholic religion. Ancestors, awakened from their eternal sleep, share celebrations with their loved ones. It is a fusion of Catholicism and Aztec traditions, wherein ancestors are celebrated with food, drink, parties, and activities.
The most familiar symbol of Dia de los Muertos is the calacas and calaveras (skeletons and skulls), with skeletal dolls, figurines and masks depicting joyful aspects of life.
Muertos y Marigolds Parade in Albuquerque
Dia de los Muertos is celebrated throughout New Mexico. Based on our ties with Mexico, that should be no surprise. My favorite place to enjoy Day of the Dead is the south valley in Albuquerque at the Muertos y Marigolds parade and after-party.
I love this event and have attended every year since returning to Albuquerque. It’s an interesting cultural experience; one that does not occur in areas without a strong, vibrant Latino influence. It celebrates local traditions and brings the community together on a beautiful autumn day. Most of the parade participants are from local schools, community organizations, and small businesses, with the occasional politician participating. The focus is definitely local with a distinctly New Mexico vibe. The low rider entourage, helmed by skeletal drivers, dropping and using the modified suspension on their vehicles to make the cars dance as the crowd chants “low and slow.” The parade route ends at the West Side Community Center, with food, vendors and live music. No fee.
What makes the experience unique is the level of participation from the community, with calaveras clad spectators lining the parade route. The event is family friendly, with loads of kiddie calaveras waiting for candy on the parade route. Their parents and grandparents accompany them, creating a multi-generational muertos montage. The entire experience is visually overwhelming. The spectators are just as involved as the parade participants. Calaveras couture lines the parade route, with many observers rivaling those involved in terms of costuming and makeup.
Calaveras Clad Spectators and Participants
The first year that I attended I wasn’t prepared. I went to a Muertos y Marigold party. No one told me that full calaveras battle rattle was necessary. I recognized my error immediately upon arrival. I was the only one at the party without a skeleton face.
Unfortunately, I arrived late and they didn’t have anymore white face paint. The closest hue was a glow in the dark substance. I thought it would be white enough. I was wrong. With limited time, and no makeup skills, my first attempt at transforming myself into a sugar skull didn’t work. My ineptitude might have gone unnoticed were it not for the glow in the dark makeup. I was glowing after the sun set . The makeup doesn’t come off easily either. I had a residual glow for three nights.
Lesson learned. I have been far more prepared in subsequent years, including wising up to the need to arrive early to secure parking that doesn’t involve walking a mile or two.
Tip: For photographers this is a spectacular event. Arrive early to allow time to walk the parade route. Some of the best shots are in the crowd.