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Día De Los Muertos In San Francisco
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Día De Los Muertos In San Francisco

Picture of Emily Boleware
Updated: 11 January 2017
San Franciscans gather in the Mission District for Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead – a Latin American celebration in honor of the dead, on a day when spirits come to visit the living.

Día De Los Muertos is about positivity, vibrancy, and optimism. Reverence and reflection on life and death is supplemented by what is essentially a giant party in which patrons can release frustrations, anxieties, and melancholia. It is a chance to settle past sorrows and future forebodings, releasing tensions by fully experiencing the present moment. With painted faces, bright clothing, and jubilant music, communities gather in the streets and parks of the Mission to celebrate and remember lost loved ones. Día De Los Muertos falls on November 2nd, which in 2015 will be a Monday.

Friends and family participate in the Festival of Altars in Garfield Park, which pays tribute to loved ones with altars of colorful and vibrant decorations and offerings. Some of the altars are commissioned projects by local artists who were invited ‘to reflect on their inter-personal connection of death and the cycle of life, and how that manifests collectively in our community.’ Attendees of the event are invited to leave handwritten notes to lost loved ones on the altars – a deeply emotional element of the Festival. The Festival of Altars is organized by The Marigold Project, a Mission-based, volunteer-run nonprofit intended to ‘preserve, promote, and share the rituals and practices of Day of the Dead in San Francisco.’

Ritualized ceremonies in honor of the dead are also held, including song, dance, poetry, and face paint. Ultimately, San Franciscans gather in the streets to trail behind drummers and dancers in a long and lively festival procession featuring drummers, brass bands, traditional dancers, horseback riders, decorated floats, and more. Artists gather to paint faces. This practice is intended to cultivate a sense of positivity for the holiday, allowing participants an opportunity to overcome fears of death and embrace the process as a part of life. Costumes and demeanors are assumed that make some patrons of the festivities appear to be spirits of the dead themselves, creating a deeper connection between the spirit and corporeal worlds.

Vendors gather to sell their wares – usually traditional figurines associated with the historical Latin American tradition. Some members of the Mission District community use the event’s crowds to gain publicity for local businesses. Others use signs and posters to educate visitors about Latin American neighborhood organizations and to protest the widespread problem of gentrification in the Mission.

Apart from these traditional Latin American spiritual celebrations, San Franciscans have plenty of other options to enjoy on the day. Events include an art exhibition at SOMArts Cultural Center, creative art projects for children, a community concert by the San Francisco Symphony, drink specials offered by local bars and restaurants, and music performances.