Dia de los Muertos is a holiday synonymous with Mexico, but is widely celebrated by its northern neighbor: California.
Latinos make up approximately half of the population of Los Angeles. The strong Hispanic and Latin American communities present in LA means a greater exchange of culture.
Dia de los Muertos has been around for over 3,000 years and is a holiday about reuniting and honoring ancestors, family and friends and having the living commune with the deceased. Simply put, Dia de los Muertos is a holiday honoring the dead. Rather than being somber, the holiday is uplifting – it is a celebration of life. Loved ones are remembered as ofrendas (altars) are created and filled with photos of the person, objects that represent his/her favorite hobbies and interests, artwork, and colorful flowers. Pleasant smelling incense fills the air, and pan de muerto (dead bread) is eaten. Dancers dress up in traditional Aztec style garments complete with a headdress and perform to the beat of the drum. All around, people join together and celebrate.
The biggest Dia de los Muertos event held in Los Angeles takes place in the famous Hollywood Forever cemetery – a fitting location to honor the dead. Altars are set up around graves, a grand stage boasts live performances from Latin musicians, and tents selling Mexican food are lined up along the premise. Thousands show up to the event in extraordinary costumes, many with their faces painted to look like the sugar skulls. It is a grand-scale and glamorous event boasting famous performers and even more famous people (that happen to be underneath the ground). Prepare for massive crowds that can feel overwhelming at times.
Over on Olvera Street located in Downtown across from Union Station exists another Dia de los Muertos festival – only this one is more relaxed and less glitzy. The altars are smaller and the people are dressed more modestly. There is a greater feeling of authenticity as locals chatter in Spanish while lighting candles. A procession is led, usually dedicating the night to a specific person who has passed and those who have died in the same way, such as drug addiction. All along Olvera Street are small shops where you can purchase incense, sugar skulls, fans, Mexican blouses, paper marigolds, colored eggs, and many more items associated with the festivities. At the end of the night, all join together around the bandshell where live music is performed along with a ceremonial ritual with Aztec dancers. On Olvera Street, it’s less about the glamour and more about the community.
Even for those who are not Hispanic, Dia de los Muertos is a beautiful holiday to honor those who have passed and to celebrate life itself. If you’re searching for a place to participate in the festivities but can’t quite make it to Oaxaca this year, Los Angeles should do the trick.