Put aside your fear of death, skeletons, and skulls, because Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead in English) at historic St. Mary’s Basilica in central Phoenix is full of joy, colorful art, and family tradition. I had a chance to attend the annual festival this year and encourage you to put it on your calendar for next year.
As you head toward the church, the first thing you’ll notice is the smell of tacos and roasted corn wafting toward you. Once you’re closer, you’ll hear the voices of children shouting with glee and, finally, you’ll see the decorated gates leading you to the annual festival. Step inside, pass under the papel picado banners, and you’ll be enveloped in a world of color and traditions of remembrance that is typical of Dia de Los Muertos in Phoenix.
About Dia de Los Muertos in Phoenix
About 41% of the Phoenix population is Hispanic, and a large number of those are Mexican. In Mexico, they say, “You die three times—once when your body dies, again when you are buried and, for the third time, when you are forgotten.” It is this annual remembrance, and all the traditions associated with it, that I found at the Dia de Los Muertos festival in Phoenix the Sunday after All Souls Day, or Day of the Dead, November 2nd.
This colorful holiday evolved from the traditions of the indigenous cultures of Mexico and Central America and has joined with Catholic tradition over the years. The result is cascades of marigolds, skulls, skeletons, Catrinas, special foods, and carefully arranged ofrendas, or altars. My day immersed in the celebration in Phoenix left me uplifted and my camera full of fantastic images.
A Day of Celebration and Remembrance
As I strolled through the ofrendas, shopped for fanciful ceramic skeletons, and enjoyed the food and entertainment, the day warmed and I was thankful for the shade of the Palo Verde trees.
Ofrendas were dotted throughout the grounds. Some were designed by local artists and some were displayed by families, but all included photos of the deceased and items, including food and drink, that they enjoyed.
Lowrider cars are part of contemporary Mexican culture in Phoenix. Lowriders and other cars had elaborate ofrendas in their trunks filled with pictures of family members and items they loved.
Mariachi skeletons were popular decorations.
La Calavera Catrina, or skeleton of a woman, has become a symbol of the Mexican Dia de Los Muertos and symbolizes a Mexican woman wearing a European style of dress. Catrinas are often seen in large hats typical of the late 1800s.
Booths at the festival included local Hispanic artists, flower stands, jewelry-makers, and artisans selling religious items.
There was a stage for entertainment and many dance troupes included children.
There were plenty of tables where you could relax and have something to eat. The fancy food trucks represented the “Cadillac of taco trucks,” and served everything from tacos to burgers.
When You Go to Dia de Los Muertos in Phoenix
St. Mary's Basilica in Phoenix holds this free community event annually as close as possible to Dia de Los Muertos, each November 2nd. It's easy to get around downtown Phoenix on a Sunday and there are plenty of parking garages in the area. When you are in Arizona, find out where to stay and dine and what to look forward to doing through these articles by Wander writers.