Celebrating Dia de Los Muertos in Oklahoma City

In the United States, October welcomes the fall season with pumpkin decorations and Halloween celebrations while November gives way to the uniquely American tradition of Thanksgiving. Between Halloween and Thanksgiving is a multi-day event with deep-rooted cultural traditions for Hispanic and Latin American communities – Dia de Los Muertos. 

Dia de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a holiday with origins in Aztec and other pre-Hispanic cultures that continues to maintain its strong traditions and brings diverse communities together. Because of Oklahoma City’s thriving Hispanic community, there are many festivals and events that keep the Dia de Los Muertos celebrations alive and help to create cultural awareness. 

What is Dia de Los Muertos?

While Dia de Los Muertos is typically considered a Mexican holiday, not all Mexican states observe the holiday, especially those in northern Mexico. According to Isabel Montemayor, assistant professor and research associate for the Center of Mexican American Studies at the University of Texas at Arlington, Dia de Los Muertos is commonly celebrated in southern Mexico states such as Michoacan, Oaxaca, and Veracruz. 

For those unfamiliar with the holiday, Dia de Los Muertos is a multi-day event to honor the lives of loved ones who have died. Not to be confused with Halloween, Dia de Los Muertos is not spooky, but rather a celebration of life, with bright colors, music, face painting, and flowers. By honoring the dead and guiding their spirits home, it is supposed to bring good luck and help to build a strong family bond.

The holiday starts on the evening of October 31 and continues until November 2. The celebration originated as a way for indigenous people of Mexico to mark the end of the agricultural season, give thanks for the harvest, and honor their ancestors. Over time, the tradition evolved and blended with the Catholic observations of All Hallows Eve, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day. The belief is that on these few days, the dead are allowed to roam the earth and visit with their loved ones.

Dia de Los Muertos events in Oklahoma City

Oklahoma City offers many family-friendly events to help educate the community and to celebrate this rich cultural tradition.

Calavera Crafts
October 22, 2019 | 6 pm to 7:30p

Paint and decorate paper mache skulls in the style of sugar skulls at the Capitol Hill library. 

Free Sugar Skull Craft at the Bethany Library
October 26, 2019 | 2 pm to 3 pm 

Embellish a sugar skull with glitter, feathers, hats, and more. All supplies are provided at the Bethany Library. Reservations are required. 

Dia de los Muertos / One Taste at a Time 2019!
November 1, 2019 | 6 pm to 10 pm 

Presented by the Greater Oklahoma City Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the One Taste at a Time event will be held at the Will Rogers Theater in Oklahoma City. The event is $45 for members and $55 for non-members and features dancing, prizes, a painted face/costume contest, altar decorating contest, and traditional food and drink from local vendors. Face painters will also be on hand to help you get into the spirit of Dia de Los Muertos.

Dia de Los Muertos at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art
November 1, 2019 | 1 pm to 4 pm

Celebrate the Day of the Dead with free family-friendly activities at Fred Jones Jr. Museum. Visit the Menagerie installation and make your own ofrenda, sugar skull mask, and papel picada decorations. Light refreshments will be provided to celebrate Latin American culture at this fun Norman event for all.

Tulsa’s Annual Dia de Los Muertos Festival 
November 1, 2019 | 5 pm tp 11 pm

Living Arts of Tulsa, in partnership with Guthrie Green, is hosting Tulsa’s annual Day of the Dead Festival. Activities will include live music, merchant vendors, face painting, dancing, mariachi, and salsa bands, food, and drink. The festival will celebrate the Día de Los Muertos tradition with a display of altars to honor those who have passed. The altars will be up through November 22, 2019, at Living Arts of Tulsa.

Outdoor screening of Disney-Pixar’s Coco
November 2, 2019 | 6 pm to 9 pm

A special screening of Coco will take place on the Devon Lawn at the Myriad Botanical Gardens. This free event will host vendors and food trucks with an opportunity to purchase marigold flower crowns to celebrate the occasion. The animated film tells the story of Miguel, a young aspiring musician. Despite his family’s baffling generations-old ban on music, Miguel dreams of becoming an accomplished musician like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz. Desperate to prove his talent, Miguel finds himself in the stunning and colorful Land of the Dead following a mysterious chain of events. Along the way, he meets a trickster named Hector, and together, they set off on an extraordinary journey to unlock the real story behind Miguel’s family history.

Day of the Dead Festival in the Plaza District
November 3, 2019 | 1 pm to 7 pm

A day of face painting, music, food, float contests, dancers, costumes, and a parade in the Plaza District. Family and pet-friendly, this event has been an Oklahoma City highlight since 2014 and gets bigger every year. 

Celebrating Dia de Los Muertos at home

Here are some ways that you can honor the traditions with your family as well as share a new cultural experience with your friends and neighbors. 

Painting the calavera – The sugar skull or calavera is an essential symbol of Dia de Los Muertos. Whether you make candy, crafts, or face paintings, it’s important to understand the part it plays in the celebration. Amparo de Jesús Rincón Pérez, anthropologist and expert at the National Museum of Popular Culture of Mexico City, said the calavera face paintings came about as a way for individuals to ward off death. 

Bake Day of the Dead bread – Pan de muerto, or bread of the dead, is a pastry that is round, to symbolize the circle of life. Food is often meant to be shared and is also a great way to invite conversations about culture. Try some of these pan de muerto recipes at home. 

Create an altar with ofrendas – Altars are built to help guide the souls of loved ones back home. Some altars are created with three levels to symbolize heaven, purgatory, and earth. Seven-level alters may also be constructed to represent each step a soul has to make to get to heaven. Altars are then decorated with flowers, a picture of the loved ones, candy, and ofrendas. Ofrendas are special gifts or food that were once the favorites of loved ones.   

Grave cleaning and decorating – Visit the graves of loved ones and tidy up by pulling weeds, cutting grass, and removing old flowers. It is believed that the first place the deceased will visit is their gravesite. Welcome them home with flowers, decorations and small gifts of food or candy. The traditional flower for the celebration is a type of marigold, called cempoalxochitl or cempasúchil. It was customary for families to hold overnight vigils at the graves or use flower petals to help guide their loved ones home.

Share stories of your loved ones – Dia de Los Muertos is meant to be a celebration of life and love and not a somber or sad event. Continue this by sharing funny stories and memories of the deceased. Your stories can help to keep the memories alive of your family and help to honor a culture that celebrates every stage of life. 

Throw a party – This holiday is meant to be a social event. Invite your friends and neighbors to celebrate with you and use this opportunity to explain the custom with your new American friends. Some ways to celebrate include serving the favorite foods of your loved ones and welcome your guests to do the same. Create an altar and start a conversation on the meaning behind it. Eat, dance, and share stories of those who have passed on. 

As cultural traditions become more mainstream, it’s common to lose sight of the significance behind the symbols and practices. By helping to educate those unfamiliar with the meaning of Dia de Los Muertos, you open the minds of others to a different view of life and death and the beauty in every stage. 

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