7 Things to Know About Day of the Dead + San Antonio’s New Festival & Parade

by Bebe Brown on October 28, 2019 in Lifestyle, Living Texas, San Antonio,

San Antonio is known and loved for its history, culture and rich heritage. That vibrant mix makes it the perfect destination to mark Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, and this year offers all-new opportunities to celebrate the holiday that is anything but a continuation of Halloween.

A new festival, Day of the Dead San Antonio, debuts November 1-3 in San Antonio’s beautiful and historic La Villita Historic Arts Village. Everything kicks off with the Catrinas on the River Parade, an illuminated evening river parade along the River Walk. Showcasing custom-made parade barges called “trajineras,” the colorful barges mirror the flat-bottom gondola-like trajineras seen in Xochimilco, a UNESCO World Heritage Site south of Mexico City.

One of the custom-made “trajineras” that will float the spirit of the Day of the Dead on the San Antonio River in the city’s first-ever Día de los Muertos river parade. Courtesy photo

With the backdrop of the picturesque Arneson Theater, the parade will meander down the San Antonio River as onlookers gather along the River Walk to enjoy the colorful displays of these glowing barges. A feast for the eyes and a treat for the whole family, the Catrinas on the River Parade is the first of its kind in San Antonio.

A closeup of a Catrina made by Huichol artisans for the Day of the Dead San Antonio Festival Nov 1 – 3.
Photo Iris Gonzalez

If you’re new this meaningful celebration here are 7 things you need to know:

1. Day of the Dead is festive holiday. Not to be confused with Halloween, Día de Muertos originated in Mexico and is celebrated across Latin America and the Caribbean. It has a growing presence in the U.S. and is celebrated more in California, Arizona and of course, Texas – all states with larger Latino populations. Of course, San Antonio is a glorious mix of culture, heritage and tradition, making it the perfect destination to learn about and mark the holiday.

2. The holiday is centered on the belief that the spirits of those have died come back to visit loved ones on the Day of Dead. The tradition is rooted in the rituals of the Aztec, Toltec and Nahua people and was later combined with Catholicism brought to Mexico by the Spanish conquistadors. Sadness or mourning of the dead was considered disrespectful. It’s a time of love when families remember, reflect and celebrate those who have died.

“La Reina,” a Catrina homage to Selena, will be featured in a custom altar in downtown San Antonio so fans can celebrate and remember the Tejano music icon. Photo courtesy Iris Gonzalez

3. The festivities are brought alive by parades and parties. People dress up like skeletons in brightly colored fancy clothes and hats. They also paint elaborate designs on their faces like the sugar skulls used to decorate the personal altars families build to welcome their loved ones home. The altars, or ofrendas, include a candle for each loved one, photos and offerings of the person’s favorite foods and drinks – to quench their thirst and hunger after their long journey. Marigold petals pave the way and papel picado, those colorful paper banners, symbolizes the wind.

Pan de muerto, the bread of the dead, is a key element of Day of the Dead celebrations. It will be available at the Day of Dead San Antonio Festival in La Villita, where it will be baked fresh by San Antonio bakery La Panadería. Photo courtesy Day of the Dead San Antonio

4. Day of the Dead San Antonio will bring all of that to life, illustrating the traditions of the holiday throughout the weekend, with live music and performances filling La Villita with the music as people gather to celebrate life and honor those who have passed. Traditional Mojigangas (large folk art puppet figures) and Catrinas will greet visitors at the festival as La Villita is transformed into a magical Day of the Dead setting. Fans of the Disney movie, “Coco,” will be delighted to see their favorite movie brought to life among the cobblestone pathways of charming La Villita.

Dancers from the Children’s Ballet of San Antonio will be performing in special make-up and costumes to resemble Catrinas during Day of the Dead San Antonio. Courtesy photo

5. Children will be entertained with fun and crafts in the Catrinas Kids area of the festival, while fantastic flavors from San Antonio favorites La Gloria, Aldaco’s Mexican Cuisine, Villa Rica, Costa Pacifica, La Panadería and True Flavors will be on hand to fill the bellies of festival goers. Adults can get into the “spirit” of the event at the Spirits Bar (featuring tequila and mezcal) as the festival offers something to keep everyone happy at this family-friendly event.

6. One of the more unique elements of the festival is the Celebration of Life 5K, held entirely on the grounds of Mission Park Funeral Chapels and Cemeteries South on November 2. Face painters will be on hand to give you that authentic Día de los Muertos look for your race photos and, while this is a friendly competition, the winner of the race secures a sponsored trip to Mexico City for the 2020 Mexico City Marathon.

Mariachis will fill the festival with music. There are 34 separate music and dance performances during Day of the Dead San Antonio. Courtesy photo

7. Another not-to-miss element: a special altar to “La Reina,” as beloved Tejano singer Selena is so fondly remembered. The altar will be featured in downtown San Antonio through November 3 to allow fans to celebrate and remember the icon. A Catrina homage to Selena standing more than 10 feet tall and adorned with more than 2 million beads will reign over San Antonio’s Day of the Dead celebrations at the corner of S. Alamo and Market Streets.


Cover: Artist Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera are honored on this trajinera featured in the Catrinas on the River Parade. Each of the barges will have a colorful theme as they float down the river at night. Photo courtesy Day of the Dead San Antonio