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Here's how to celebrate Día de los Muertos in Austin

An ornate ofrenda is constructed to celebrate at San José Cementerio.
Michael Minasi
People construct an ofrenda to honor friends and family members who have died at San José Cemetery in Montopolis last year.

Lee esa historia en Español

Many events around the city this year welcome Austinites to celebrate Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) with community altars, parades and live music.

Día de los Muertos is a Mexican holiday that originated thousands of years ago from an Aztec tradition that honored the dead. The Catholic influence of All Saints Day and All Souls Day was introduced to the holiday when Spaniards arrived in Mexico. Celebrants would bring flowers, candles and wine to the graves of their loved ones who had died.

A person wearing makeup and dressed as La Catrina
Julia Reihs
Maria Menchaca celebrates Día de los Muertos dressed as La Catrina at Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park in 2020.

The holiday is often confused or mixed with Halloween festivities because of the holiday's timing and traditional symbols like calaveras (skulls) and Catrina makeup. It is celebrated on Nov. 1 when the souls of children who have died are honored and are believed to be able to visit their loved ones. On Nov. 2, adult souls are believed to cross over the spiritual threshold and join in on the celebration.

Traditions include families decorating altars, also known as ofrendas, where the pictures of people who have died are displayed along with their favorite food and drinks. Pan de muerto (bread of the dead), a soft and sugary pastry, sugar skulls and other Mexican treats are commonly made for the celebration. Flor de cempasúchil (marigolds) adorn graves and altars and are believed to help lead souls back to their loved ones.

The holiday is now celebrated by other cultures and countries and has grown into bigger celebrations within many communities. Disney's movie Coco reached the big screen in 2017 and opened a window into the holiday with a lively and colorful story.

Here are some local events you can attend:

The Cathedral Third Anniversary Open House 

There will be performances by local musicians, drinks and a Día de los Muertos-inspired art exhibit Oct. 28 from 7-11 p.m. in the 1930s refurbished church in East Austin. The event is 21+. Get tickets here.

Mexic-Arte Viva La Vida Parade and Festival

The parade will begin at noon on Oct. 29, travel south down Sixth Street and end at Fourth Street and Congress for the Viva la Vida Street Festival. The procession will include a mix of traditional and modern Día de los Muertos dancers, music, floats and much more. Activities run until 6 p.m. Get more information here.

The Austin Latino Heritage Bike Ride

There will be a family-friendly bike ride from Dear Diary Coffee in East Austin to the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Oct. 29. Participants will have the opportunity to add a picture of a loved one to the community altar outside of the gallery. Then cyclists will continue their ride to join the Méxic-Arte Viva La Vida parade downtown. Register and get more information here.

San José Cemetery Fandango de los Muertos

The festivities start at Revival Coffee in East Austin on Oct. 29 from 2-4 p.m. and at the Montopolis Rec Center from noon to 2 p.m. They include family-friendly workshops on how to make arches, crosses, crowns and garlands with flor de cempasúchil (marigolds).

Altars will be set up to honor Uvalde victims and the migrants who died in a trailer in San Antonio earlier this year. Volunteers can help set up the altars from 3-6 p.m. Oct. 30 at San Jose Cemetery II.

"La Platica" (the talk) starts at 7 p.m. on Nov. 1. UT Austin and Mexican historians will tell the history of the holiday on a panel, followed by the premiere of a Mexican documentary, at San José Cemetery I. The evening ends with participants decorating the cemetery with marigolds and candles.

On Nov. 2, San José Cemetery II will host a musical line up of local and international artists starting at 7 p.m.

Rosita y Conchita

This children's play about a sister trying to reunite with her dead sister on Día de los Muertos is running Oct. 29-30 at the Austin Scottish Rite Theater. There are two shows per day at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Buy tickets here.

AVANCE-Austin Día de los Muertos 

AVANCE- Austin is having a community fundraiser at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on Nov. 2 from 6-9 p.m. Get tickets here.

People are invited to submit the names and photos of loved ones for a virtual altar.

Waterloo Park - Día de los Muertos 

There will be community altars, family activities, live music, dance performances and more at the Moody Amphitheater from 6-9 p.m. on Nov. 1-2.

ALPFA - Día de los Muertos 

The Association for Latino Professionals for America is opening its Austin chapter for a Día de los Muertos celebration. Meet the new board and hear about their plans to engage with the Latino community from 3-6 p.m. on Oct. 30. Get tickets here.

Round Rock - Día de los Muertos Procession and Festival

There will be a parade starting at Wells Fargo at 5 p.m. and arriving at Centennial Plaza about 15 minutes later on Nov. 5. The festival runs from noon to 8 p.m. and will feature activities, food vendors and more. Find out more here.

Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center - Día de los Muertos

MAAC will have its opening reception for the Austin Studio Tours on Nov. 1. Members will get early access from 6-7 p.m. and general admission is from 7-10 p.m. Get tickets here.

From 6:30-8:30 p.m. on Nov. 2, visitors can see a presentation of ofrendas (altars) made by community members, as well as a separate collective altar where people can bring and contribute anything from flowers to pictures and notes for loved ones who have died. The event will feature tamales, hot chocolate and pan de muerto.

On Nov. 5, MAAC hosts its Day of the Dead Festival from 5-10 p.m., with the Frida Friday artisan market, the MexAmeriCon (the first Latinx comic comic book convention), a puppet show and more. You can catch a free shuttle between 4:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. at Sanchez Elementary.

UT Austin - Dia de los Muertos Ofrenda and Commemoration

The Latino Studies College of Liberal Arts will have a gathering to commemorate the Uvalde school shooting victims from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Nov. 2 at the Gordon-White building. Find more info here.

DIA on Dia - Día de los Muertos Celebration

More than 30 artists will perform at 3TEN Austin City Limits Live on Nov. 2. The show starts at 7 p.m. Get tickets here.

Candlelight Día de los Muertos

There will be a one-hour live multisensory concert with music inspired by Día de los Muertos on Nov. 1 at The Addison Grove. The show starts at 9 p.m. and doors open 45 minutes in advance. Get tickets here.

Gabby Rodriguez is the former digital producer for KUT. Got a tip? Email her at
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