The Day of The Dead - A celebration of life, food and drink in San Jose

A Mexican tradition celebrated through art, food and drink in downtown San Jose

Don’t let the sight of the skulls and skeletons deter you. Día de Muertos - also known as Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead, falls on November 1st and 2nd and is often confused with Halloween. But unlike Halloween, Día de Muertos celebrates the love of family and life and nowhere do they do that better than in San Jose in the South Bay. Downtown San Jose showcases the vibrancy of Mexican culture through festivals and musical performances that honor the living and the dead.


The holiday has been celebrated for thousands of years.

Dia de los Muertes celebrates friends and family members who have passed on. The holiday dates back almost 3,000 years ago and was started by the Aztecs. They viewed the ritual as sacrilegious. They kept the dead as part of their communities in spirit. It is believed that on the Day of the Dead, these spirits return to Earth. Today’s version of the holiday works as a combination of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day.

A Time To Celebrate

The Day of the Dead marks a time for festivals for everyone celebrating.

Since it begins around Halloween and is surrounded by the concept of death, a lot of people have the wrong idea about Dia de los Muertos. Sure, death is a part of it, but there’s a reason the day is also famous for music, festivals, and bright colors. It's a celebration. Even the skulls and face paint associated with the holiday aren’t there to frighten you. In fact, nearly every piece of art inspired by Dia de los Muertos has a deeper meaning.


White and pink were chosen as her colors here for a reason.

Many are unaware, but each color used on this holiday represents something different. White, the color of most of the skulls, depicts purity and spirit. Any yellow seen on the holiday showcases the sun and unity. Red is used to highlight the blood of life, while purple is used for those in mourning. On a lighter note, pink designates happiness. The colorful and festive vibe associated with the Day of the Dead has become a part of downtown San Jose’s atmosphere.


Some of the incredible artwork inspired by the Day of the Dead.

Beyond the colors, there are also all kinds of symbols with something more behind each. For example, sugar skulls represent the life cycle. Monarch butterflies, found in many pieces of art related to the holiday, represent the soul of someone who has passed on. The famous calavera face paint is used as a way to ward off death. One restaurant widely recognized for their artwork, which is heavily inspired by the Day of the Dead, is Chacho’s on Fernando Street in San Jose.


The mural on the wall at Chacho's, painted by the great Francisco Franco.

Thanks to the vibrant colors and meaningful symbols, art related to Dia de los Muertos is special. Paintings featuring these colors and symbols, or simply inspired by the festive nature of the holiday, are prominent around this time. Many have visited expos and exhibits featuring this kind of art to get a better feel for the Day of the Dead and understand more of what it all means.


The ofrenda honors the dead and provides offerings as they return to the land of the living.

One of the most special aspects of the celebration of Dia de los Muertes involves la ofrenda. It’s an altar used to leave offerings for the spirits returning to the land of the living. Traditionally, the offerings can include their favorite meal, drinks,  gifts, and family photos. Most ofrendas are setup in three tiers. One to symbolize Heaven, one for Earth, and one for Purgatory. These spirits are guided back home with help from the cempoalxochitl, also known as the flower of the dead. In some cases, the bright orange flower has its petals removed to create a trail from the cemetery to the ofrenda.


Poster of Coco, autographed by star Luis Valdez, hanging at Chacho's.

Thousands of years after it began, the Day of the Dead is still celebrated by millions. The holiday works to pay tribute to ancestors, as a good time for everyone involved, and to unify the family. Popular films like Coco and The Book of Life are built around that core idea. The presence of loved ones is meant to bring good luck and joy, which is a great reason to celebrate. Like the memories of those passed on, Dia de los Muertos lives on.

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