Old Town’s Dia de los Muertos celebration returning for fourth year
Dave Fidlin | SDUN Reporter
With a dip into the past and a nod toward authenticity, organizers throughout Old Town are working feverishly to put the final preparations on the community’s fourth annual Dia de los Muertos celebration.
The event, an homage to Mexico’s revered holiday, has been growing since its introduction in 2010 as a large-scale event aimed at attracting people throughout San Diego County. This year’s program will be held in Old Town on Friday, Nov. 1 and Saturday, Nov. 2.
One of the centerpieces of this year’s program will again be the Tour of the Altars, a display indoors and outdoors at museums, shops and restaurants throughout Old Town. The international-themed shops at Bazaar del Mundo, 4133 Taylor St., are among this year’s participants.
Julia Kinney, manager of the Artes de Mexico and Guatemala shops at Bazaar del Mundo, said a variety of nearly 50 different altars will be on display this year in an effort to give spectators a true feel for the Mexican tradition that more recently has begun spreading to other Latin American countries.
Mexican residents have long created altars in their homes as a tribute to deceased family members, ancestors and friends.
“We just finished creating a walking map for this year’s tour, so people will have an opportunity to see all of the 49 altars that will be on display,” Kinney said Oct. 18 as final logistics were being assembled.
The true heart of Old Town’s Dia de los Muertos celebration is within the El Campo Santo Cemetery, 2410 San Diego Ave. A large public altar will be on display within the cemetery to give visitors an opportunity to share personal items, photographs and messages as tributes to loved ones who have passed on.
In keeping with the authenticity, organizers will be holding a candlelight vigil the second day of the event with a large-scale public procession that all visitors will be invited to participate in.
“The Tour of Altars is very dramatic and especially spectacular in the evening, when each altar is aglow with a multitude of candles,” said Diane Powers, who owns a number of shops within Bazaar del Mundo. “The gravesites (at El Campo Santo Cemetery) are decorated, and (the site) is illuminated with hundreds of candles.”
Since the program’s inception in 2010, organizers have emphasized Dia de los Muertos is a family event. Kinney said there is not any of the ghoulishness oftentimes associated with Halloween.
“We’re going to be offering a number of free events that kids will especially enjoy, including face painting, and we’ll be giving out coloring pages,” Kinney said. “This really is a fun, exciting event, and we think people will enjoy it.
Other entertainment throughout the two-day event includes traditional music, dancing and family-oriented craft activities. Many of the programs and activities are free, while a few have a nominal charge.
While it comes but once a year, planning for Old Town’s Dia de los Muertos celebration has become a year-round event, organizers say. The Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO), which touts itself as San Diego County’s largest historic preservation group, is behind many of the details.
“We think it’s especially fitting to celebrate this holiday in Old Town, the oldest part of San Diego and historically multicultural, having been settled first by Native Americans, then the Spanish and Mexicans, and then the Americans,” said Alana Coons, director of education and communications with SOHO.
Coons, described as chief organizer of Dia de los Muertos, said one of the primary objectives behind the Old Town event is to give visitors an insight into the holiday, which is frequently confused with Halloween, but not associated with it despite the close proximity on the calendar.
“This celebration is a means of bringing the community together to experience the tradition and culture surrounding Day of the Dead,” Coons said. “We hope everyone will embrace the magic and leave the event with something lasting on an emotional level, as well as having just a great, fun time.”
AT A GLANCE
WHAT: Old Town San Diego’s fourth annual Dia de los Muertos celebration
WHEN: noon to 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 1 and Saturday, Nov. 2
WHERE: near the Whaley House, 2476 San Diego Ave.
INFORMATION: sddayofthedead.org, 619-297-9327