When I was a kid, I spent several Día de los Muertos holidays polishing the gravestones of some of my grandparents and great-grandparents who are buried in Guerrero, Coahuila. It was never a sad affair. My family and I, along with other families visiting their dearly departed, would add new flowers to their resting places and celebrate their lives.
As an adult, I would later create altars in their honor during the Day of the Dead holiday, which is celebrated on Nov. 1-2, with the season starting weeks before. To satisfy my Güelo Lauro’s sweet tooth, I made sure my altar included some pan de muerto (bread of the dead) as well as the traditional marigolds and sugar skulls that brighten up these elaborate ofrendas.
I love returning to Mexico for these holidays, but over the years I’ve found that the spirit of this occasion has become a stronger part of Austin culture as well. Each year, Austinites can honor the lives of their loved ones through many of the city’s growing Day of the Dead festivals and events.
Keep your eye on the Día de Los Muertos Festival at Fiesta Gardens on Oct. 17 from noon-10 p.m. Easter Seals Central Texas, a nonprofit that provides services to help children and adults with disabilities, launched the fest two years ago in order to engage with the community in a culturally relevant way. Each year they keep boosting the fest’s musical offerings. Grammy award-winning Tejano music veteran Emilio Navaira will headline this year’s festival. Another notable act includes Venezuela’s Latin alternative rock stars La Vida Bohéme, who are both South by Southwest and ACL Fest alumni and always bring an energetic live show. Kinski Gallo, an ex member of L.A. bilingual rock band Monte Negro, joins the lineup with his danceable beats that blend everything from electronica to cumbia. Pre-sale general admission tickets are $15. Check out the rest of the lineup, which also includes local acts Son de Rey and Son Armado, at austindiadelosmuertos.com.
Mexic-Arte’s Viva la Vida Fest has been at the forefront of Austin’s Día De los Muertos celebrations for more than three decades. It’s gained popularity for its parade, live music, artist vendors and community altars. Celebrations take place at the museum throughout the month, with workshops, events and exhibits that all lead up to the Oct. 31 festival, which is from noon-8 p.m.
This year, the parade will feature a grand sugar skull float by local piñata artisans Monica and Sergio Lejarazu. The couple received national attention early this year after their East Austin piñata shop, Jumpolin, was demolished and sparked an outcry from community leaders. The artisans will lead sugar skull piñata-making workshops every Sunday at 1 p.m. leading up to the festival.
Latin pop songstress Gina Chavez, DJ Chorizo Funk and young sister band Tiarra Girls are among this year’s performers. The festival and piñata workshops are free, but an Oct. 31 evening reception inside the museum with cocktails and a sampling of authentic Mexican cuisine will cost $10 for non-members. Visit mexic-artemuseumevents.org for more details about all the museum’s Day of the Dead events.
How will you be celebrating?