By JILL DIAMOND | Uptown News
Besides Halloween and fall football, another October event gaining in popularity is Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead.
Over the years, the holiday traditionally celebrated in Mexico and San Diego has grown to attract people from all walks of life. This year, the Fiesta de Reyes Día de los Muertos Celebration will be held once again in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park in the Fiesta de Reyes plaza Nov. 1-3.
“Día de los Muertos is a community-wide celebration of the history, Hispanic culture and rich heritage of the region. It is at this time of year that the spirits of loved ones who have died are thought to return to Earth to celebrate with friends and family,” said Fiesta de Reyes Día de los Muertos Celebration Spokesperson Mike Simms.
He said the tradition of celebrating the dead goes back to pre-Columbian cultures in what is now Mexico. As European influences came into play, the traditions became mixed with Christian traditions and it evolved into the celebration we have today.
What to see and do
While at the event, the state park will offer a celebration of activities and attractions for the entire family that will be a tribute to those who have passed away. From a professional artist painting a large Day of the Dead skull in the middle of the park to a public altar where visitors can place remembrances, there’s something for everyone. Additionally, there will be a vibrant Día de los Muertos parade that will proceed around the state park plaza on Saturday at 5 p.m. featuring many local groups and performers.
Simms added the Fiesta de Reyes courtyard at the north end of the state park will be full of fanciful, humorous, and visually stimulating décor offered as tributes to many of San Diego’s early citizens. Many life-sized Catrina skeleton dolls in fancy dress hold court at Fiesta de Reyes throughout the fall season.
“Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos, has been celebrated in Old Town for more than 10 years and has become an event that people who used to come with their parents are now bringing their children to.
“The event in the state park is more than a street fair as so many other Día de los Muertos celebrations in the area have become. We embrace and celebrate the meaning of the holiday and people – especially families – are attracted to that. People of all ages and ethnicities attend. The state park event sees many families attending together with multiple generations of progeny.
“The sentiment of setting aside time to remember our ancestors and loved ones who are no longer with us with reverence and joy is very appealing. It has truly started to become an international celebration. Many cultures all over the world embrace the concept of celebrating the dead at certain times of the year, so Día de los Muertos fits into those traditions as well,” he said.
Attendees echoed the sentiment like Robert Barros, Day of the Dead artist, who said: “We love the Day of the Dead celebration in Old Town as a place to showcase our Day of the Dead art. It’s a refreshing break from the wild street-fair environment of most events around the holiday. The focus on tradition, remembering the dead and art has us choose this event every year.”
Eric Minella, manager of Historic Interpretation at Fiesta de Reyes in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park said, “I’ve been creating altars and larger-than-life public displays for Día de los Muertos in Fiesta de Reyes and Old Town for more than 10 years. It has been a joy to watch the celebration grow in popularity each year because the sentiment behind it is so touching – and I think it’s important for kids and families to embrace.”
— Jill Diamond is a Southern California freelance writer with a penchant for interesting historical pieces. Reach her at JillDiamondHistory@gmail.com.