Little Altars Everywhere: El Dia De Los Muertos Celebration in San Francisco [Photo Gallery!]

Via on Nov 4, 2009

Dia28Growing up, celebrating El Dia De Los Muertos meant cutting out tissue paper skulls and eating skeleton-shaped bread in Spanish class, and ultimately, it meant extending Halloween for a few extra days. I loved the idea of lively dancing skeletons and spirits coming to visit, but I never really understood their true significance until I moved to the Mission District in San Francisco, where Dia De Los Muertos (“Day of the Dead”) is a grand holiday all its own, as over 15,000 people march the streets, honor the dead, and party down.

Unlike Halloween, which seems to have progressively become about vampires, ironic throwback pop culture, and dressing up as the “slutty” version of something (or the ever-popular combination: slutty Debbie Gibson vampire), Dia De Los Muertos is a meaningful celebration of life and death. This past Monday evening, thousands of people dressed as Calacas (skeletons) and paraded through the streets, complete with exquisitely painted faces and a multitude of deathly props, all lit by the warm, eerie glow of their votive candles. The teeming river of bodies moved to the beat of live drumming, with beautiful Aztec dancers, children in adorable outfits and more than a few curious onlookers in tow. It was a spectacular sight.

With origins in ancient Aztec culture, this Latin American holiday, celebrated on November 2nd each year, brings friends and families together to pray and remember loved ones who have passed. Throughout Mexico, neighbors traditionally gather in local cemeteries to share food, art, music and stories with their ancestors, acknowledging their continued relationship, even after death.

Dia1

In San Francisco’s version of the festivities, the wild processional ends in a small park where hundreds of elaborate altars were built, many of them interactive installations, inviting the crowd to step in and share their memories. Some altars glowed like velvet-filled, Victorian living rooms, and others were precious, thoughtfully curated clusters of trinkets. Many colorful shrines were filled with artwork and photos, like the Michael Jackson Memorial, or giant spooky skeletons doing a variety of funny human activities. My favorite altar was a simple one–several clotheslines hung between two trees, displaying notes and names of the dead. “Celebrate the Lives and Souls of Your Loved Ones…Please Put Your Memories Here,” instructed the painted sign, as the crowd continuously added more hand-written messages and candles.

In that moment, there existed a rare blend of grief and gaiety; an overwhelming sense of community and spirituality that isn’t often witnessed in public celebrations. It was the perfect night to contemplate our mortality, remember our friends and family beyond, and rejoice in the abundance that we have on earth….“All Souls Day” indeed.

Rachel Znerold is an artist and independent fashion designer living the good life in San Francisco, CA. www.rachelzart.com

Massive altar with friends and family gathered around.
Massive altar with friends and family gathered around.
Beautiful face paint. The color yellow is supposed to symbolize death, as in autumn.
Beautiful face paint. The color yellow is supposed to symbolize death, as in autumn.
Altar for a sports fan...Notice the 49ers jacket.
Altar for a sports fan...Notice the 49ers jacket.

“Celebrate the Lives and Souls of Your Loved Ones…Please Put Your Memories Here”

My absolute favorite. Haunting messages to the dead.
My absolute favorite. Haunting messages to the dead.

Dia9

The entryway to the field of altars.
The entryway to the field of altars.
The live drum circle was broken up by the police, only to re-form moments later.
The live drum circle was broken up by the police, only to re-form moments later.
Notice the Free Tibet sign on the upper left.
Notice the Free Tibet sign on the upper left.
The Wedding Calacas. So sweet.
The Wedding Calacas. So sweet.
Michael Jackson Shrine.
Michael Jackson Shrine.
The dead are seen as protective angels watching over us.
The dead are seen as protective angels watching over us.
You could practically live in this altar.
You could practically live in this altar.
Tall skeleton puppet giving free hugs.
Tall skeleton puppet giving free hugs.
A face-off with the Circus Calaca on stilts!
A face-off with the Circus Calaca on stilts!
Each visitor is invited to write about their vision of peace.
Each visitor is invited to write about their vision of peace.
Amazing live music from the Dead.
Amazing live music from the Dead.
Marigolds are the traditional flower of Day of The Dead.
Marigolds are the traditional flower of Day of The Dead.

Dia19

Dia17

Dia25a

Masks and votive candles are an easy way to take part if face-paint isn't your thing.
Masks and votive candles are an easy way to take part if face-paint isn't your thing.
No party is complete without skeleton hula hoopers.
No party is complete without skeleton hula hoopers.
Loved the costumes!
Loved the costumes!
The End.
The End.

.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.

.

.

.

.

.

.

About Rachel Znerold

Growing up in the Colorado countryside, Rachel Znerold knew early on that she was different…she saw dazzling beauty in decomposing logs and expressed her individuality with wild drawings on her sneakers. Now, as a prolific painter, eco-fashion designer, performance artist and writer, Rachel makes a life out of making art. With a degree in Fine Art and Advertising from The University of Colorado in Boulder, Rachel began to pursue her art career full time. Aiming to share her awe of the world and the art of the everyday, she has taught painting, fashion design, and performance at a variety of schools, museums, and non-profits. Rachel has been commissioned to paint murals in Colorado, New Zealand and Mexico, and eventually landed in San Francisco, becoming a part of the Mission District’s vibrant art scene. Rachel believes art is instrumental in building strong community and a culture of social activism. www.rachelzart.com

3,921 views

Appreciate this article? Support indie media!

(We use super-secure PayPal - but don't worry - you don't need an account with PayPal.)

12 Responses to “Little Altars Everywhere: El Dia De Los Muertos Celebration in San Francisco [Photo Gallery!]”

  1. What a terrific article. The text and photos are so evocative that I feel like I was there, particularly since I grew up in the SF area and can picture all the places you describe.

    Generally I'm not much into ritual. But you made this so interesting I couldn't resist being drawn in.

    Thank you.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  2. What a terrific article. The text and photos are so evocative that I feel like I was there, particularly since I grew up in the SF area and can picture all the places you describe.

    Generally I'm not much into ritual. But you made this so interesting I couldn't resist being drawn in.

    Thank you.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  3. What a terrific article. The text and photos are so evocative that I feel like I was there, particularly since I grew up in the SF area and can picture all the places you describe.

    Generally I'm not much into ritual. But you made this so interesting I couldn't resist being drawn in.

    Thank you.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  4. What a terrific article. The text and photos are so evocative that I feel like I was there, particularly since I grew up in the SF area and can picture all the places you describe.

    Generally I'm not much into ritual. But you made this so interesting I couldn't resist being drawn in.

    Thank you.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  5. What a terrific article. The text and photos are so evocative that I feel like I was there, particularly since I grew up in the SF area and can picture all the places you describe.

    Generally I'm not much into ritual. But you made this so interesting I couldn't resist being drawn in.

    Thank you.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  6. What a terrific article. The text and photos are so evocative that I feel like I was there, particularly since I grew up in the SF area and can picture all the places you describe.

    Generally I'm not much into ritual. But you made this so interesting I couldn't resist being drawn in.

    Thank you.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  7. What a terrific article. The text and photos are so evocative that I feel like I was there, particularly since I grew up in the SF area and can picture all the places you describe.

    Generally I'm not much into ritual. But you made this so interesting I couldn't resist being drawn in.

    Thank you.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  8. Pernell says:

    An entertaining and evocative journey. I learned something, I felt something. Humanity exposed, we are good . Grief and gaiety, your assessment, vivid.

    A treat, on a quiet Sunday morning, thank you.

  9. [...] what happens when your mat, your sanctuary, or even your altar is taken [...]

  10. [...] elephantjournal.com This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged Michael Jackson, shrines. Bookmark the [...]

  11. Hi my loved one! I want to say that this post is awesome, nice written and come with almost all significant infos. I would like to look more posts like this .

  12. [...] Slutty Halloween? Yup. It’s (been) a thing (for a long time) (in many cultures). [...]

Leave a Reply