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.

Phoenix Dia de Los Muertos

The entrance to the St. Mary’s Basilica grounds gave a hint of the color and excitement to come. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

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.

Dia de Los Muertos Phoenix

St. Mary’s Basilica was founded in 1881 and staffed by the Franciscan Friars since 1895. The current church replaces an earlier adobe church. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

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.

Dia de Los Muertos Phoenix

The sculpture, “Circle of Peace,” depicts several children playing and holding hands in a circle. For this day, it was decorated. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

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.

Dia de Los Muertos Phoenix

Local artist, Edgar Fernandez, designed this altar with a theme of “Water.” Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

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.

Dia de Los Muertos Phoenix

This ofrenda, in the back of a Toyota, represented the loss of a young person. His guitar, football helmet, and more were added to the colorful display. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

Mariachi skeletons were popular decorations.

Dia de Los Muertos Phoenix

The traditionally dressed skeleton was added into a display of Frida Kahlo items. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

Dia de Los Muertos Phoenix

A touch of humor inside a lowrider car. Look who just pulled up to the local drive-in! Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

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.

Dia de Los Muertos Phoenix

This stylized Catrina must have been the result of hours of work on her makeup and costume. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

Booths at the festival included local Hispanic artists, flower stands, jewelry-makers, and artisans selling religious items.

Dia de Los Muertos in Phoenix

Local artists sold jewelry, artwork and Mexican folk art items. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

There was a stage for entertainment and many dance troupes included children.

Dia de Los Muertos in Phoenix

This Matachines group was from the San Marcos Church and featured the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patron saint of Mexico. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

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.

Dia de Los Muertos in Phoenix

Emersons, an award-winning food truck, sold specialty tacos and fry bread. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

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.

Phoenix Dia de Los Muertos

The entrance to the St. Mary’s Basilica grounds gave a hint of the color and excitement to come. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

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 each November is full of joy, colorful art, and family tradition. #DiaDeLosMuertos #DayoftheDead #Phoenix #Art #Culture #Hispanic

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Sign up for our newsletter to get the latest food, wine & travel updates! We look forward to having you Wander with us.

You have Successfully Subscribed!