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Where to Celebrate Dia de los Muertos in San Antonio 

click to enlarge MATT BUIKEMA
  • Matt Buikema
As you might have noticed, the Alamo City can hardly wait for the arrival of All Saints’ Day (November 1) and All Souls’ Day (November 2) to pull out all the stops for Día de los Muertos, the pre-Columbian tradition that mocks death by celebrating the dearly departed with festive altars (or ofrendas) adorned with candles, incense, marigolds, photographs, keepsakes, sugar skulls, pán de muerto, cherished snacks and plenty more in between. In fact, many of the hallmarks of Day of the Dead, as it’s called in certain parts, are imbedded in the social fabric of San Antonio year-round, including the ever-present skeletons and skulls, not to mention makeup and decor directly inspired by Mexican illustrator and satirist José Guadalupe Posada’s characters — especially his early 20th-century icon La Calavera Catrina, a behatted spirit that’s been dubbed both the “dapper skeleton” and the “elegant skull.” Although creating an ofrenda to pay tribute to a lost loved one at home is arguably the most rewarding way to observe Día de los Muertos, there’s an abundance of opportunities to celebrate the occasion at community-oriented events throughout the city.

Both stalwarts that sprung from HemisFair ’68, the Mexican Cultural Institute (MCI) and the UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures (ITC) team up for a collaborative offering that begins at ITC with the presentation of an altar created by UTSA Honors College students, snakes through Hemisfair in a lively procession led by URBAN-15’s elaborately costumed drum-and-dance troupe Carnaval de los Muertos, and culminates at MCI with hot chocolate, pán de muerto, tamales and the unveiling of an ofrenda honoring Tom Frost, the late local banking legend the event organizers remind was a “young immigrant as well as a beloved San Antonian who always showed respect and admiration for Mexican culture” (free, 6-9pm Fri, begins at 801 E. César Chavez Blvd., ends at 600 Hemisfair Plaza Way,

Formed in 1977 with a mission to “build upon the tradition of Chicano and indigenous culture,” Centro Cultural Aztlán is a long-standing champion of Día de los Muertos in San Antonio. The 41st edition of the cultural arts organization’s pioneering group exhibition “Altares y Ofrendas” is anchored by a diverse showcase of ofrendas but also promises pán de muerto, ponche de frutas, a performance by the skeleton-faced Carnaval de San Anto and an “Avenida de los Muertos” brimming with artisanal creations ($3 suggested donation, 6-9pm Fri, Centro Cultural Aztlán, 1800 Fredericksburg Road,

Active since 1980, the community-based Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center upholds its mission to cultivate, promote and preserve “traditional and contemporary Latino arts and culture through multidisciplinary programming” including long-running local faves such as the Tejano Conjunto Festival and CineFestival, as well as museum-caliber exhibitions and year-round programming. The West Side nonprofit’s Día de los Muertos Celebration includes an exhibition of altars created by artists, families and organizations, a launch reception for Barbara Renaud-Gonzalez’s new book Dear San Antonio, I’m Gone But Not Lost: Letters to the World from Your Voting Rights Hero Willie Velasquez, art-making workshops, pán de muerto y chocolate, face-painting and performances by the Guadalupe Mariachi Academy and Guadalupe Dance Academy (free, 6-10pm Fri, Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, 723 S. Brazos St.,

A “politically progressive, outspoken and unwavering force for justice in San Antonio” since 1987, the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center also boasts a long and fruitful history in the Alamo City, crusading for everything from historical preservation to transgender rights. Inviting folks to celebrate “dearly departed familia, friends and ancestors,” the nonprofit’s take on Día de los Muertos combines altar displays with a costumed procession, readings of literary ofrendas and calavera poems, local vendors including the MujerArtes clay cooperative, and live music by soul siren Alyson Alonzo, singer-songwriter/guitarist Azul Barrientos and Latin orchestra Volcán — not to mention pán de muerto, tamales and hot chocolate (free but donations appreciated, 3-11:30pm Thu, Rinconcito de Esperanza, 816 S. Colorado St.,
click to enlarge MATT BUIKEMA
  • Matt Buikema
A much younger tradition, Día de los Muertos at Pearl returns for a second-annual outing featuring a real-life Calavera Catrina in the form of actress and performer Estela Williams, art-making activities, a procession and live mariachi, conjunto and folkloric music, plus altars created by school groups, local artists (including Cruz Oritz, Cristina Sosa Noriega and Al Rendon) and Mexico City-based Karima Muyaes, who’ll be selling prints, paper skulls and paintings, and unveiling an altar honoring the 43 students who vanished in the Mexican city of Iguala in 2014 (free, 4-9pm Thu, 5-9pm Fri, Pearl Park, 303 Pearl Pkwy.,

Promising “one of San Antonio’s most comprehensive Día de los Muertos celebrations,” creative youth-development nonprofit SAY Sí’s Muertitos Fest adds “educational context” to the holiday via a student art showcase, ofrendas, folk-art workshops, artisan vendors and cultural performances. Adopting a theme of “Sin Fronteras (Without Borders)” as a means to highlight “the vibrant indigenous cultures of Mexico and the origins of this significant celebration,” this year’s fest kicks off with a First Friday reception complete with a procession, food booths and a kid-friendly costume contest, and wraps up Saturday with a Family Day featuring face-painting, crafty workshops, music and performances (free, 6-10:30pm Fri, noon 4pm Sat, SAY Sí, 1518 S. Alamo St.,

Numerous parks and landmarks light up with special programs and varied fanfare — including a lunchtime lecture by Alamo staffer Misty Hurley on “the history of the Day of the Dead, the blending of cultures that influenced the holiday and its place in modern pop culture” ($15, includes lunch, noon-1pm Thu, The Alamo, Alamo Hall, 300 Alamo Plaza,; a “Celebrando la Misiones de las Familias Descendientes” event with 10 altars created by families of mission descendants, a stage-sized community altar where guests can make contributions, a drum-and-dance procession, a historical presentation with narration by Emma Ortega, performances by cumbia/roots rockers Los De Esta Noche and the Teresa Champion Dance Academy, and an outdoor screening of the 2014 animated adventure The Book of Life (free, 4-10pm Fri, Mission Marquee Plaza, 3100 Roosevelt Ave.,; a concert in the heart of the city featuring performances by bilingual fusion rocker Patricia Vonne, Mariachi Corazón de San Antonio and the Bailando Sin Fronteras Dance Company, free sugar-skull face-painting, and an outdoor screening of Pixar’s 2017 Oscar winner Coco (free, 6-10:15pm Thu, Main Plaza, 115 N. Main Ave.,; and kid-friendly sugar-skull workshops, a community altar, a Henry Ford Academy art show inspired by a favorite “deceased rock star,” a dance performance by local flamenco legend Teresa Champion and a screening of Coco (free, 5-10pm, Market Square, 514 W. Commerce St.,

Presented by the Lone Star Art District, the Paseo Día de los Muertos unites a handful of the neighborhood’s artist-run spaces for concurrent exhibitions, displays of altars created by more than 20 artists and organizations — Ana Hernandez, Rudy Choperena, Jesse Amado, Felix and Ana Padron and Karlos Anzoategui, aka Karlos with a “K” among them — and performances by Antonia Padilla, Crystal Flores and Carnaval de los Muertos (free, 5-10pm Fri, Lone Star Art District, 107 Lone Star Blvd.,

Rounding out the offerings on an explosive note, Planet K’s 11th annual Día de los Muertos Fireworks Celebration promises to be the beloved gift emporium’s “biggest yet” with a memorial balloon release, face-painting, food trucks, art exhibits and a vintage car parade leading up to the big finale set against the picturesque backdrop of Woodlawn Lake (free, 4-8:30pm Fri, Woodlawn Lake Park, 1103 Cincinnati Ave.,

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