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10 of the Biggest Day of the Dead Celebrations in the US

Celebrate lost loved ones with parades, offerings, and live music.

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Liam Greenwell is a writer and teacher based in Mexico City. He is originally from Cambridge, Massachusetts. You can read more of his work at liamgreenwell.com and find him on Twitter @liam_greenwell.

Though scholars disagree as to the historical origin of Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead), it’s undeniable that the holiday has become more popular in recent decades. It’s a way to celebrate the lives of lost loved ones, and for many Mexican Americans, it can be a moment to spotlight their heritage as well. Using cempasúchil (marigolds), celebrants decorate ofrendas (altars) that give the dead a taste of their favorite earthly foods. Expect to spot lots of skulls and bones—specifically the ubiquitous image of the “Catrina,” a skeleton dressed to the nines inspired by a 20th-century political cartoon. If you can’t make it to Mexico in early November, here’s where to celebrate the day in the US instead.

1. Muertos y Marigolds Parade, Albuquerque, New Mexico

sculpture of a woman in traditional dia de muertos costume on an ofrenda
This sculpture of a woman shows traditional Day of the Dead make-up and accessories.Photo Credit: Earth Trotter Photography / Shutterstock

Celebrating the deceased with a theme.

The largest Day of the Dead parade in New Mexico has only gotten more popular over the years—the organizers even decided to temporarily cancel the event a few years ago to make sure they could adjust to the influx of participants.

Since its return, Muertos y Marigolds has decorated the South Valley every first Sunday of November with a lively procession that features face painting, gigantic papier-mâché skeletons, and cultural events that both celebrate life and somberly reflect on those lost. (Recent thematic memorials have been those lost to COVID-19 or gang violence, for instance.) Despite the heavy topics at hand, you’re sure to have a great time though, thanks to the local food vendors and colorful floats.

2. Muertos Fest, San Antonio, Texas

four revelers don Day of the Dead skull masks and floral headpieces.
Four revelers don Day of the Dead masks and floral headpieces.Photo Credit: Moab Republic / Shutterstock

Give offerings, Texas style.

San Antonio is one of the largest Hispanic-majority cities in the US, as more than half of the population claims Mexican heritage. At Muertos Fest, which spans two days, downtown San Antonio’s Hemisfair Park is decked out with altars, live music, and food vendors. Start your day with a San Antonio River Walk cruise to get your bearings before making your way to the festival grounds. There, just like at a music festival, you can use an app to get directions, find lunch, and identify those honored on the various ofrendas around the grounds.

3. Día de Los Muertos Xicágo, Chicago, Illinois

two people are dressed in Day of the Dead skull costumes
Parade-goers are dressed in Day of the Dead skull costumes.Photo Credit: Roberto Galan / Shutterstock

For art, culture, and a celebration of history.

This celebration offers the perfect excuse to explore the neighborhoods of Pilsen and La Villita (Little Village) in Chicago. Every year, the National Museum of Mexican Art hosts this Día de Muertos event ... but it’s not trapped behind glass. Rather, locals come and add their family members’ faces to the community ofrenda in adjacent Harrison Park and listen to live music. Afterward, visitors can explore the museum’s collection, which highlights art that spans Mexican history from pre-Hispanic times to contemporary Chicano civil rights struggles, or go on a walking tour of community art in the area.

4. Fèt Gede, New Orleans, Louisiana

four women walk down the street in New Orleans wearing Fèt Gede costumes
Women celebrate Fèt Gede in New Orleans.Photo Credit: Page Light Studios / Shutterstock

NOLA celebrates more than just Mardi Gras.

Like with many celebrations, New Orleans puts its own spin on the Day of the Dead. Fèt Gede is the Haitian Day of the Dead, and the NOLA version of the holiday mixes the Haitian Vodou religion, Mexican American traditions, and the French celebration of All Soul’s Day.

The annual event is hosted by the New Orleans Healing Center, an organization that offers local services such as community food banks and HIV testing in addition to Vodou cleanses. Expect to see participants in purple and white (the favored colors of the mischievous deity Gede), and don’t be afraid to get involved. If you’re up for a closer brush with the haunted side of the city afterward, join an interactive ghost tour.

5. DOTD-FL, Fort Lauderdale, Florida

a skeleton puppet in a parade
A skeleton puppet is paraded down the street during Florida's Day of the Dead celebrations.Photo Credit: Felix Mizioznikov / Shutterstock

South Florida brings Latinx cultures together.

South Florida is a diverse mix of Latinx culture, and this event in Fort Lauderdale goes beyond celebrating Mexican heritage to include influences from all around Latin America. The day starts with Aztec and Maya dance performances as well as Peruvian troupes, Bolivian music, and even brass bands from New Orleans. No matter where you go in the sprawling event location, there’s something new to experience—from a puppeteering class to crafting booths.

6. Mano a Mano Celebration, New York City, New York

a parade of skeleton puppets
A parade of skeleton puppets fills a Manhattan street.Photo Credit: Steve Edreff / Shutterstock

Decorate, enjoy, and relax amid the city’s diversity.

Mano a Mano’s mission is to honor Mexican heritage in New York City, and one of its cornerstone events each year is its Día de Muertos celebration at St. Mark's Church-in-the-Bowery in Manhattan.

For East Coasters, this is a perfect place to get acquainted with some of the typical aspects of the holiday, from papel picado (colorful thin paper with cutouts of skulls, marigolds, and skeletons) to pan de muerto, orange-scented bread rolls topped with bone-shaped decorations. It should also inspire you to explore the big city’s incredible diversity, borough by borough.

7. LA Day of the Dead, Los Angeles, California

a woman wearing skull makeup and a flower crown
Colorful skull makeup is a hallmark of the Day of the Dead.Photo Credit: betto rodrigues / Shuttersto

Not one, but two ways to honor the deceased.

Los Angeles has such a robust Mexican American population that it’s home to two major Day of the Dead celebrations: one at Olvera Street in Downtown LA and the other at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. It’s the second that’s the real star, a raucous celebration full of music and surrounded by gravestones of LA’s revered celebrities. The costumes are radiant, bursting with color even after sundown, and the food vendors include some of the most innovative taquerías in the city. Note that separate tickets are available for the daytime and nighttime events.

Related: 9 Places Where You Can Honor Latinx History in the US

8. Longmont Day of the Dead, Longmont, Colorado

painted skull adorned with flowers on an ofrenda
Skulls aren't reserved for makeup looks—they're also used to decorate ofrendas.Photo Credit: Vicki L. Miller / Shutterstock

Sing and dance to the music.

A more modest event, Longmont’s Day of the Dead is a robust community gathering that’s been running since 2000. Local ofrendas are on show for much of October as the city gears up for the holiday itself. Then, on Nov. 2 each year, the Longmont Museum plays host to a night of concerts open to all ages, featuring Aztec-inspired dance troupes and contemporary Chicano funk music alike. Sitting halfway between Fort Collins and Denver, Longmont is also a perfect jumping-off point for a late-season hike in the Rockies.

9. “Dead Running” Races, Mesilla, New Mexico

day of the dead skeleton wearing a red sparkly dress
A particularly glamorous Day of the Dead skeleton wears a sparkly red dress with a matching hat.Photo Credit: Mike Hardiman / Shutterstock

Run as fast as you can to this Day of the Dead party.

The town of Mesilla (just outside of Las Cruces) hosts an annual Day of the Dead celebration, but the real reason you’ll want to come to this corner of New Mexico are the annual themed races called Dead Running. One of the more unique ways to mark the holiday, the race series was founded by a German immigrant who fell in love with the American Southwest’s blend of cultures.

These days, runners can sign up for various shorter races, a half marathon, or a full marathon. The course starts and ends at La Llorona Park on the banks of the Rio Grande—a park whose name honors the “weeping woman,” a vengeful spirit who haunts bodies of water.

10. Life in Death Festival, Winchester, Nevada

women wear Day of the Dead skull masks, flower crowns, and traditional dress
Women wear Day of the Dead skull masks, flower crowns, and traditional dress.Photo Credit: Moab Republic / Shutterstock

Celebrate both life and death.

Just off the Las Vegas Strip, the unincorporated community of Winchester is a hotspot for Latinx culture in the area where much of the population identifies as Hispanic. The Life in Death Festival has been happening for more than two decades and serves as a great way to engage in the local community—and perhaps take a break from the casinos.

Here, you’ll find ofrendas, craft vendors selling handmade souvenirs, and folkloric dance troupes showing off traditional dances from different parts of Mexico (while wearing skull facepaint, of course). It’s a good reminder that Vegas is more than just big hotels and Cirque du Soleil. After the celebration, go even deeper with a walking tour that shows off the city’s under-the-radar food scene.

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