How to celebrate Day of the Dead. Hint: It’s all about the joy of living.

Oct. 12, 2023
Indigenous dancers celebrate Day of the Dead or Día de los Muertos
Day of the Dead or Día de los Muertos has roots in Aztec and Mayan cultures. Parades will often include indigenous dancers. Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon.

Despite its name, Day of the Dead or Día de los Muertos isn’t about loss or sadness.

“It’s a celebration of life,” said Victoria Gonzalez, marketing and digital manager for Denver’s Latino and Cultural Arts Center.

Every fall, leaders at the Latino and Cultural Arts Center meld ancient and contemporary traditions to celebrate Day of the Dead.

Gonzalez also is making a documentary about the history of Day of the Dead celebrations in Colorado.

The art center’s seasonal celebration is called Ofrendas. Ofrendas are offerings placed on lovingly-designed altars, which include photos of loved ones, candles, flags and ancestors’ favorite foods.

How to celebrate Day of the Dead or Día de los Muertos

Day of the Dead or Día de los Muertos celebrations have roots both in indigenous Aztec and Mayan cultures and Catholicism. Unique traditions have emerged in Mexico, Guatemala and among Mexican-Americans in U.S. cities like Los Angeles and Denver.

“The relationships that Mexicans, Chicanos or Latinos have with the dead are very different,” Gonzalez said. “We don’t see death as an endpoint. It’s a journey. We invite our ancestors back into our homes to enjoy offerings that we set out on altars.”

A young woman wears an elaborate costume to celebrate Day of the Dead or Día de los Muertos in Denver.
A young woman wears an elaborate costume with a skeleton face to celebrate Day of the Dead or Día de los Muertos in Denver. Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon.

Some people conflate Day of the Dead with Halloween or think it’s a scary holiday. Those perceptions are incomplete at best.

Day of the Dead is a lively, joyous occasion, marked by intricate altars in homes, dancing, parades in cities and celebrations at some graveyards. In Mexico, for instance, people celebrate Day of the Dead by decorating their loved ones’ graves with bright orange marigolds, which are believed to light the way for ancestors to return.

In Colorado, you can visit traditional bakeries, like Rosales Mexican Bakery in Denver, where you can taste pan de muerto, or bread of the dead, a sweet and savory concoction. Or, you can buy colorful, decorated sugar skulls.

“We’re honoring and remembering our ancestors,” Gonzalez said. “People have feasts and enjoy meals together and tell stories and remember their loved ones. That’s how we celebrate our dearly departed and keep their memory close.”

Skeleton costumes are common for Day of the Dead Celebrations.
During Day of the Dead celebrations, some people dress in skeleton costumes. Legend has it that ancestors come back to celebrate with the living during the early November holiday. Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon.

Our loved ones remain very much alive through our memories of them and the way we celebrate their lives. 

And, people can treasure those memories any time of the year. Gonzalez keeps an altar set up in her home all year long to remind herself to honor those who came before her.

Gonzalez is a fifth-generation Mexican American who grew up in Houston, but Day of the Dead celebrations have been lost in some Hispanic communities and families, while others never adopted the traditions.

“It wasn’t until we moved to Denver that I was exposed to Day of the Dead,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve learned to reconnect with that part of my heritage.”

The holiday really could be called Days of the Dead or Días de Los Muertos because it’s actually celebrated over two days: Nov. 1 and 2, and traditionally spans over months.

“Nov. 1 is dedicated to the children who have been lost,” Gonzalez said. “Then the second day is a  celebration for adults and everyone else.”

Some people without Hispanic roots are newly enthusiastic about celebrating Day of the Dead since the Disney animated film, “Coco,” popularized the holiday.

Gonzalez said the film isn’t entirely accurate. But, all people from various racial and ethnic backgrounds are welcome at Day of the Dead celebrations.

“The best way to learn about Day of the Dead is to go into the community and experience it first-hand. All people are welcome,” Gonzalez said. “Just be in the community and be open to learning about something outside of your comfort zone. Embrace it with love and find new ways to come together and build a healthier city and nation.”

Young girls dress in bright colors to celebrate Day of the Dead in Denver.
Flowers and bright colors are common symbols of joy and life in Day of the Dead costumes. Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon.

Where to celebrate Day of the Dead or Día de los Muertos in Colorado:

Viva’s Festival and Día de los Muertos Parade, Santa Fe Drive and Denver’s Civic Center Park, Denver

When: Saturday, October 28 from noon to 8 p.m.
Parade: 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The parade will start at West 7th Avenue and Santa Fe Drive and will make its way toward West 13th Avenue and Santa Fe, then ends at La Alma Lincoln Park at West 13th Avenue and North Mariposa Street. The parade will feature floats, marching bands, dancers, fire trucks and many people dressed in colorful costumes.
Festival: noon to 8 p.m. at Denver’s Civic Center Park, 101 W. 14th Ave., Denver. The fesitval will feature food vendors, live music, drinks, exhibitors, Catrina contest, fair games, an altar exhibition and international music from around the world. There will also be special performances from the Banda Los Mazatlecos, Sonora Dinamita.
Cost: free

Celebrate Day of the Dead on First Friday, Nov. 3, in Denver with the Museo de Las Americas

The Museo will host an array of activities, performance and vendors. This event is free and open to the public from 5 to 9 p.m. Learn more. Where? Denver’s Art District on Santa Fe. The museum is located at 861 Santa Fe Drive in Denver and businesses, residents and art galleries in the district join in the Day of the Dead festivities.

Día de los Muertos Art Crawl & Street Party, Friday, Nov. 3 in Lakewood with the 40 West Arts District

This free event takes place from 6 to 9 p.m. at the 40 West Arts District, 7130 W. 16th Ave. in Lakewood. There will be exhibitions, altars, Aztec dancers, traditional Indigenous and Hispanic artists, food trucks, craft stations, face painting, and more.

Día de los Muertos at Denver Art Society

Visit the Dia de Los Muertos art exhibit “Life, Death and Rebirth: Vida, Muerte y Renacimiento”

When: through mid-November

Where: CHAC Gallery + Cultural Center, 834 Santa Fe Drive, Denver.

Enjoy all of the events sponsored by Denver’s Latino and Cultural Arts Center and their partners:

Denver’s Latino and Cultural Arts Center hosts several events in celebration of Day of the Dead. Learn about the events and sign up.

A woman with a colorful veil and parasol celebrates Day of the Dead.
A woman with a colorful veil and parasol celebrates Day of the Dead. Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon.

Longmont hosts Day of the Dead and Día de los Muertos 

Check out all of Longmont’s Día de los Muertos events including exhibitions, family celebrations and a Noche de Museo.

Dancing is common in Day of the Dead parades.
Dancers perform during a Day of the Dead celebration in Denver. Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon.

Botanic Gardens Día de los Muertos Celebration

View online resources to create Día de los Muertos crafts

Quick and easy videos on how to make papel picado, paper marigolds, mini altars and more.

Coloring Sheets by Artmando



Young girls participate in a Day of the Dead parade in Denver.
Young girls participate in a Day of the Dead parade in Denver. Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon.

Celebrate Día de los Muertos / Celebremos Día de los Muertos, Thursday, Nov. 2, Belmar Library, Lakewood

Celebrate the Day of the Dead with stories, songs, snacks and crafts.

About the author

Katie Kerwin McCrimmon is a proud Coloradan. She attended Colorado College thanks to a merit scholarship from the Boettcher Foundation and worked as a park ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park during summers in college.

Katie is a dedicated storyteller who loves getting to know UCHealth patients and providers and sharing their inspiring stories.

Katie spent years working as an award-winning journalist at the Rocky Mountain News and at an online health policy news site before joining UCHealth in 2017.

Katie and her husband, Cyrus — a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer — have three adult children and love spending time in the Colorado mountains and traveling around the world.