A Mexican-born holiday that’s rooted in tradition, Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a two-day celebration that takes place on November 1 and 2 during which family members honor and remember the lives of loved ones who’ve passed.

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Widely celebrated in Mexico and throughout the United States, the first day of Dia de los Muertos is dedicated to deceased infants and children while the following day is devoted to adults. During this holiday, family members build temporary altars for their loved ones, which they decorate with photographs, candles, marigolds, sugar skulls, incense, and other ofrendas, or offerings, such as the person’s favorite home-cooked meal or stiff drink.

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“In Mexico, it’s celebrated in the cemetery, and people go and decorate the grave sites for their loved ones,” says director of the Latino Center of Art and Culture Marie Acosta. “It’s a mixture of festive and somber, and it’s a strong tradition of looking at death as a continuation of life, and so the celebration embraces that passage.”

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Acosta and her team at the Latino Center are gearing up for this year’s 8th annual El Panteónde Sacramento, or the cemetery of Sacramento, where an entire city block on J and 21st Streets is transformed to look like the streets of Mexico during this celebration of life. Restaurants, stores, and houses stage their respective memorials throughout the city, and attendees revel in what resembles an all-out party in honor of Dia de los Muertos.

The two-day event takes place on Oct. 28 – 29 with more than 60 altars created by artists, families, and organizations illuminating three parking lot areas. During El Panteónde Sacramento, attendees will see traditional mojigangas, which are 12-foot-tall street puppets customarily found in Mexico; a 14-piece banda, a lively musical ensemble with brass and percussion; and enjoy plenty of food and beverages provided by Yolanda’s Tamales, including a free ponche, a warm, spiced, fruity punch, to everyone in attendance.

Andres Yanez, son of Yolanda Yanez, the patriarch of Yolanda’s Tamales, says his mom, who is from Michoacán, Mexico, celebrates Dia de los Muertos every year and will also be baking pan de muerto, a special round bread loaf that’s decorated with either skeleton figures or bones made out of dough and is only enjoyed during this holiday. It’s often found on altars.

“We’ve been coming to El Panteón since the beginning, and it’s grown from 20 people to a multitude of participants, and it’s something we love to do,” Andres says. “My mom sets up an altar at her house every year. Dia de los Muertos is a tradition, and it’s really a community event where everyone celebrates life.”

For details about the event, find 8th Annual El Panteón de Sacramento/Dia de los Muertos on Facebook.

steph rodriguez

Steph Rodriguez is an award-winning freelance journalist who keeps a close eye on the food and music scene in Sacramento. With more than 10 years’ experience as a writer, she crafts stories that mirror the vast and diverse culture of the region. From entertainment and lifestyle features, to profiles with a farm-to-fork interest, she aims to capture the best of Sacramento.


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