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

Oct. 17, 2022
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:

Día de los Muertos at Denver Art Society

Enjoy a cultural celebration of Día de los Muertos with Aztec dancers, facing painting, a “best-dressed contest” and more.

When: Saturday, October 29 from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Where: 734 Santa Fe Drive, Denver

Celebrate Day of the Dead on First Friday, Nov. 4, in Denver with the Museo de Las Americas

Image shows planned celebration for Day of the Dead on Nov. 4 at Denver's First Friday events at the Art District on Santa Fe. Image courtesy of 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. View the schedule of events and view them below. 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.

Image shows list of events. Celebrate Day of the Dead on Nov. 4 at Denver's First Friday events at the Art District on Santa Fe. Image courtesy of the Museo de Las Americas.
Celebrate Day of the Dead on Nov. 4 at Denver’s First Friday events at the Art District on Santa Fe. Image courtesy of the Museo de Las Americas.

Enjoy all 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.

Run or walk in the Day of the Dead 5K/10K Run/Walk, City Park, Denver, Oct. 23

This event benefits Denver’s Latino Leadership Institute. The Latino Leadership Institute at the University of Denver honors the heritage of leadership, advances Latino professionals to positions of influence, and prepares organizations to innovate for the workplace of tomorrow.

Longmont hosts Day of the Dead and Día de los Muertos events in person and at home

Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a time to honor and celebrate our deceased loved ones. After more than a year of challenges and loss, Longmont Museum’s annual exhibition and programs will bring the community together to honor the memories of those we have loved and lost and to celebrate together in person again.

Attracting more than 6,000 people annually, Longmont’s Day of the Dead exhibition and celebration is the longest-standing celebration in Colorado.

Longmont Museum Día de los Muertos Exhibition

October 8 – November 6; free
The Día de los Muertos exhibition returns to the Longmont Museum’s Swan Atrium, featuring ofrendas (altars) built by community members and the work of Longmont artist, Mario Olvera. Olvera’s artistic lens has become an inseparable part of both his professional and personal life, beautifully woven into his endeavors as a visual artist, educator, youth mentor, Aztec dancer, and father. Using art as a vessel to foster self-acceptance and respect among marginalized populations, Mario has become an influential teacher in Longmont and the surrounding region.

Longmont Day of the Dead Family Celebration

Saturday, October 8

The Día de los Muertos street festival and family celebration includes music and dance performances, arts and craft activities, cultural education, delicious food, downtown business altars, and the Gigantes Procession. Día de los Muertos exhibitions at both the Longmont Museum and Firehouse will also be open and free. Park downtown or at the Longmont Museum and take the free shuttle between locations so you can enjoy all the activities of the day.

Family Fiesta
2–6 p.m.; free
Downtown Longmont at 4th Avenue & Main Street

Gigantes Procession
6–6:30 p.m. starting at the Fiesta; free

On the Web

Longmont’s leaders provide online materials for everyone to enjoy.

Visit longmontdayofthedead.com (English) for information about all things Día de Muertos in Longmont and thematic content highlighting the origins and traditions that make Day of the Dead a meaningful and heartwarming holiday. Follow along to cook with family, create traditional crafts, build your own altar, and more.

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

Denver Botanic Gardens celebrates Dia de los Muertos on Nov. 5 with an array of artistic performances, a costume contest, a mercado and much more. Check out the full schedule of events in late October.

Dia de los Muertos costumes are strongly encouraged.

Children 15 and under are free, but tickets are required.

Tickets must be purchased in advance and are not available onsite.

El Mercado

Shop our Mercado, showcasing artist vendors from Colorado selling their Día de los Muertos original art pieces, prints, folk art, jewelry, t-shirt designs and more.

Related Event

Calacas Art Exchange

Denver Botanic Gardens’ annual Día de Los Muertos celebration extends to Aurora Public Library this year, welcoming seven larger-than-life papier mache calaveras hand-painted by several Colorado artists. The Calacas Art Exchange Project is a community art initiative in partnership with Aurora Public Library, as part of its Hispanic Heritage Month celebration, created to bring artists, organizers and community members together to promote and share the rich cultural and artistic traditions of Día de Los Muertos.

Be sure to visit all Aurora Public Library branches as each will host a Calaca painted by a different artist. To locate your favorite branch, visit AuroraLibrary.org.

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.

Jefferson County Library

Make Día de los Muertos Sugar Skulls

Enjoy this activity at various library branches. Learn about the significance of sugar skulls known in Spanish as calaveras de azúcar as you make your very own to take home.

Learn more about Day of the Dead celebrations around the world from National Geographic

 


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About the author

Katie Kerwin McCrimmon is a proud Colorado native. 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 summer breaks from college. She is also a storyteller. She loves getting to know UCHealth patients and providers and sharing their inspiring stories.

Katie spent years working as a journalist at the Rocky Mountain News and was a finalist with a team of reporters for the Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of a deadly wildfire in Glenwood Springs in 1994. Katie was the first reporter in the U.S. to track down and interview survivors of the tragic blaze, which left 14 firefighters dead.

She covered an array of beats over the years, including the environment, politics, education and criminal justice. She also loved covering stories in Congress and at the U.S. Supreme Court during a stint as the Rocky’s reporter in Washington, D.C.

Katie then worked as a reporter for an online health news site before joining the UCHealth team in 2017.

Katie and her husband Cyrus, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, have three children. The family loves traveling together anywhere from Glacier National Park to Cuba.

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