How to Celebrate Dia de los Muertos in LA
From live performances to socially distanced celebrations.
Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead as it’s known in the US, is a tradition honoring, remembering, and celebrating loved ones that have passed away. The Mexican belief is that these departed souls come back to reunite with their beloved every November 1 and 2. The yearly holiday is a joyous and upbeat way to honor ancestors, often using humor to welcome back the dead. La Catrina, a feminine skeleton wearing elegant clothing and a hat full of feathers, has become a popular figure over the last century, stemming from a satirical illustration by political cartoonist José Guadalupe Posada that lightheartedly brings death to life at Dia de los Muertos festivities.
Traditionally, November 1 is the day children’s souls arrive and November 2 is the day adult’s souls arrive. Family and friends prepare for their visit by decorating altars in their homes with their favorite toys and treats for children. Cempasuchil, or Mexican marigolds, are placed on altars to guide spirits to their shrine. Portraits and sugar skulls are symbolically arranged; candies and dishes including mole and pan de muerto (sweet bread that’s traditionally spiced with ground anise and brushed with an orange glaze) are laid on altars for visiting spirits to eat.
On the night of November 2, people gather in cemeteries for one last reunion— this time next to where their loved ones lay. People place more food, flowers and candles on gravesites and sometimes serenade them with guitars or mariachi.
Roughly 140 miles from the Mexican border, Los Angeles has found its own way of celebrating the tradition, also celebrated in other countries like Guatemala and Ecuador. Dia de los Muertos embraces death warmly and in LA that means music concerts, festivals, and face painting.
Celebrations might not look the same this year, but the spirit of the holiday lives on through outdoor and virtual events. We’ve put together this list of the top Dia de los Muertos events in the city if you’re planning on celebrating:
October 18–November 1
MOLAA is hosting a 20-day Dia de los Muertos celebration with their online exhibition, A Long Journey , which refers to “the path that each person takes during their life cycle, and how throughout history this intimate circle honors that memory through rituals and celebrations.” Programming includes live streaming an altar creation with artist nauj leunam (Juan Silverio) from October 18 through October 25, where participants are invited to share images, names, and birthdays of and messages for loved ones to be included in the museum’s virtual altar. Click here for submission requirements and to complete the form, or send your submission directly to email@example.com. Don’t forget to check back in on November 1 to see the unveiling of nauj leunam’s (Juan Silverio) altar. Other activities include a live demonstration on traditional Mexican hot chocolate and pan de muerto with Arturo Enciso of Gusto Bread on October 26 from 6–7 pm and an opportunity to honor beloved ancestors and community members by building a Dia de los Muertos diorama in a bilingual workshop hosted by Edgar-Arturo Camacho-Gonzalez of El Comalito Collective . All events are held over Zoom and registration is required .
Ongoing through November 1
Self Help Graphics already has virtual events underway for their 47th annual Dia de los Muertos celebration. Right now, DIY workshops on their YouTube channel will teach you how to make the key elements of an altar, like paper marigolds and papel picado , or paper-cut designs and on October 27 at 1 pm, you can catch a lesson on traditional face painting led by Gabby Claro. Head over to the website to explore their Ofrendas 2020 exhibit, named after the tradition of having offerings for souls when they return. On November 1, tune into their YouTube channel at 4 pm to watch Noche de Ofrenda (Night of Offering), a virtual ceremony and concert featuring Latin rock queen, Ceci Bastida, dreamy song maker Katzù Oso , and psychedelic cumbia duo, Tropa Magica.
October 24–November 4
The 12-acre park in the heart of DTLA will celebrate its eighth annual Dia de los Muertos event with 12 days of festivities including their beloved onsite community altars, all of them culturally and personally relevant to LA while highlighting the losses of this last year. Eleven large-sized altars curated by Self-Help Graphics in collaboration with their Noche de Ofrenda series of programs, including the annual Community Altar created by Maestra Ofelia Esparza and her family are available for viewing every day from 5 am to 10 pm. The park will offer 360-degree views of the altars in order to ensure social distancing. Head to the Splash Pad (AKA the fountain and kid’s mini-water park) to catch a view of six kites that represent the migrant children who have died in ICE custody.
After you’ve perused the ofrendas at Grand Park, head over to The Music Center’s Jerry Moss Plaza to see digital ofrendas and two photo exhibits. The first, Healing Sanctuaries , curated by the Dancing Diaspora Collective, documents Black and Brown people’s healing practices and sanctuaries, while Soul Survivors , curated by Khalid Jefferson, showcases work that highlights empathy, collective healing, and the resilience of the Black community. The Music Center will use technology to bring digital altars to life, displaying them on large LED screens with 360-degree views. For those interested in learning more about the significance behind the altars and exhibits at Grand Park and The Music Center, audio tours will be available. Can’t make it out to the park? On October 24, Grand Park will present an online DIY workshop in partnership with Self-Help Graphics via YouTube that will show you how to turn your bicycle into a mobile altar.
The second episode of El Patio Tecate, a virtual concert series hosted by your favorite Baja California brew, will include a special Día de los Muertos-themed virtual event and community fundraiser along with an all-women lineup that features first-generation cumbia-punk singer San Cha, Latinx pop star Tatiana Hazel, the trailblazing Orange Calderon, who became the first woman to win a national DJ competition, Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter Natalia Lafourcade, and Chiquis Rivera, the eldest daughter of late banda legend, Jenni Rivera. The concert will take place at iconic Hollywood Forever cemetery and feature traditional Dia de Los Muertos decorations. The livestream event is emceed by American Latino TV host Natasha Martinez and will be broadcast live via Facebook , Twitter , and YouTube . All proceeds raised from the event series will be donated to the LA-based nonprofit No Us Without You that supports over 1,000 undocumented back-of-house workers and their families each week.
Cost : Free, but donations are encouraged
October 31 and November 1
Towering calaveras and orange backlit photo booths make new West Hollywood pop-up Las Palmas’ Dia de los Muertos two-day brunch at rooftop favorite E.P & L.P., the top choice for those who want to capture their fun for the ‘gram. The Tulum-themed rooftop will serve breakfast tacos, lobster quesadillas, and other plates that pay homage to the flavors of Yucatan, plus specialty Micheladas crafted in collaboration with Calidad Beer . Costumes are encouraged and guests can come through as early as noon, but should be mindful that two-hour reservation blocks are enforced and parties of between four and six people can only be accommodated between noon and 4 pm on either day. Reservations required for all parties and can be made by calling 310-855-9955.
Cost: Drink and food purchases
October 31 and November 1
Marina Del Rey
Guests and LA locals are invited to safely commemorate the Dia de los Muertos holiday at Proper's new Hotel June in Playa Vista, where they can enjoy festive decor and Baja California vibes courtesy of Steve Livigni's spacious two-deck, outdoor restaurant, Caravan Swim Club , which is offering themed cocktails and plates from chef Angie Lee. On November 1, death gets a tropical makeover with an al fresco, socially-distant evening of Tiki de los Muertos cocktails and music by the pool. Hotel guests will have access to all programming, while locals can book dining reservations via OpenTable .
Cost: Drinks and food purchases
October 31–November 2
Head to the Westside and marvel at 14-feet tall La Catrina sculptures by LA-based artist Ricardo Soltero who has adorned his figures in vibrant, traditional Mexican attire. Sculptures will be on display in nine locations throughout the Santa Monica Promenade and four locations at the Pier. Social distancing at the locations is strongly encouraged and masks are required.
Mercado La Paloma is a cultural culinary treasure and market that brings Dia de los Muertos to South LA every year. They’ll be taking their 19th Annual Dia De Los Muertos celebration online this year with an altar exhibition and livestream performances by Maqueos Philharmonic Youth Band, Nueva Antequera Folklorico Ballet and Pachanga Latin Band on YouTube and Facebook at 2 pm.
Santa Anita Park
Disney’s touching animated film about a boy whose journey to following his musical dreams leads him to the Land of the Dead is a family-friendly way to enjoy the holiday if you’re in the mood for a flick. Experience the film’s creative take on Dia De Los Muertos drive-in style where no one can complain about you singing along to Disney hits. Tickets aren’t sold at the door, so make sure you purchase ahead of time online .
Cost: $8 per person plus $20 per car
Any other year, the 24th Street Theatre would be getting ready to host a lively community festival full of art installations, vendors, and performances that would allow attendees to see, taste, and hear the essence of Dia De Los Muertos. This year, their celebrations will move online with a festival that will feature actor Edward James Olmos among others and promises to bring the fun to you and. Catch the festivities on Facebook Live at 6 pm.
Cost: Free, but you can buy a Dia de los Muertos mask to support 24th Street Theatre
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