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Día de los Muertos in DC: Events, Activities for Day of the Dead

The traditional Mexican celebration reunites the living and the dead

Día de los Muertos is a two-day holiday that celebrates life and death — a joyful time for people to remember the deceased and honor their memory through festivals, lively celebrations and meaningful offerings.

Family members prepare weeks in advance by creating altars, decorating burial sites and cooking specific foods. Nov. 1 is typically focused on children and Nov. 2 on adults, but celebrations depend on individual families and communities, Cynthia Vidaurri, a Smithsonian researcher, said.

While Day of the Dead originated and is most strongly identified with Mexico, it is a holiday celebrated throughout Latin America and anywhere with a Latino population.

If you choose to celebrate Día de los Muertos, take some time to learn about the significance of the day, understand the customs and know traditional practices before partaking in the festivities.

The Smithsonian has many helpful resources, including quick facts about the holiday. The Latino Center has an online exhibit.

Here are the places where you can find celebratory events and activities in honor of the Day of the Dead:

Mexican Cultural Institute


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Through Nov. 20, the Mexican Cultural Institute will be presenting Oaxaca in the United States, an event that celebrates art, culture, and traditions of the state of Oaxaca. Throughout the event the Mexican Cultural Institute will have a traditional Day of the Dead altar for visitors inspired by the altars in Oaxaca. Admission is free and tickets are not required.

National Museum of the American Indian

The National Museum of the American Indian will showcase two traditions central to the Day of the Dead. Following two different artists, the museum will demonstrate the art of making traditional figures from sugar and papier-mâché. The prerecorded event will take place online and is free to the public.

National Portrait Gallery

Monday, Nov. 1 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., the National Portrait Gallery will celebrate Día de los Muertos with an outdoor festival of music and art. The museum will create a community altar on the museum's steps, inviting visitors to discover more about the history behind the celebration. Several artists will project a live digital painting, video, and sound performance to honor the Latino community in D.C. The event is free to the public.

Smithsonian American Art Museum

The Smithsonian American Art Museum will host an online Día de los Muertos celebration on Oct. 30 from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. The event will feature a virtual performance from Ballet Folklórico Mi Herencia Mexicana, demonstrating several Mexican folk dances. The event is free but registration is required through Eventbrite.

5th Annual Día de los Muertos Benefit Festival

On Nov. 6, Día de los Muertos DC will host its 5th Annual Día de los Muertos Benefit Festival on the National Mall. The festival will be from 10 a.m. to 12 a.m. and will include art, music, an altar, a parade, as well as several Catrinas, the Lady of the Dead. The event is free but registration is encouraged.

Día de los Muertos Fest

Catholic University of America is hosting a Día de los Muertos Fest on Nov. 6 from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. The festival aims to honor the richness of Mexican culture and its traditions. It will feature different activities for children and adults including live mariachis, an altar, dancing and more. General Admission is free but tickets are required. If interested in participating in the altar or purchasing a kids package, which includes face painting and a craft kit, tickets are $15 to $20.

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