If you’re seeing skulls popping up around San Antonio, or maybe even seeing ghosts, there’s good reason. While San Antonians can do Halloween with the best of them, the ancient Día de los Muertos tradition comes alive throughout the city, with celebrations grand and homespun.
Events kick off Thursday with a festive parade on the river featuring fabulously decorated floats, then continue into next week at locations around town.
In 2019, San Antonio booster Chef Johnny Hernandez helped bring to fruition a major new Day of the Dead San Antonio celebration at La Villita, featuring a nighttime river parade and monumental calaveras painted by Mexican and local artists.
For the 2022 return to in-person events Oct. 27-30, a “Spiritlandia” theme was introduced along with national television coverage on NBC’s Peacock streaming network to help brand San Antonio as the country’s premier spot for Día de los Muertos celebrations.
The main event is Thursday’s river parade, with tickets available at several levels from $35 to $100 depending on the seating area. A free viewing area is available at the parade entrance at North St. Mary’s and Convent streets, and the Arneson River Theatre is the setting for the parade’s festive 7 p.m. kickoff.
A music festival runs Friday and Saturday evenings with live acts and DJs in and around Plaza Juarez, and community activities including face painting, an alebrije exhibit, a remembrance wall and grand altar, and a culinary village filling La Villita throughout the weekend.
The Main Plaza Conservancy will enliven the heart of downtown San Antonio with its free Plaza De Los Muertos celebration Oct. 27 from 4-10 p.m.
The square will be activated by face painting and sugar skull-making stations, a salsa dancing lesson, and roving live music from Azul Mariachi de San Antonio.
The event culminates in a 9 p.m. showing of The Saga, illuminating the façade of San Fernando Cathedral with the history and prehistory of San Antonio.
SAY Sí, the San Antonio nonprofit focused on arts education for youth, lends significance to small things (including kids) with “Da Valor a Lo Pequeño: A Muertitos Celebration,” on Friday from 6-9 p.m at the SAY Sí headquarters at 1310 S. Brazos Street.
Like the title of the event, the theme is “dichos,” proverbs that have resonated with SAY Sí students.
A street procession will kick off the evening, followed by a silkscreening workshop — attendees are encouraged to bring their own T-shirts and totes — a bounty of marigolds, a student film screening and live theater performances.
The event is free and open to the public.
After eight years, the downtown Día de los Muertos festival — popularly known as Muertos Fest — had outgrown its former home in La Villita and moved to nearby Hemisfair.
Now in its 10th year, the festival has gained notice from national media as a top U.S. event celebrating the traditional Mexican holiday. At the heart of the festival are 80 community altars honoring dearly departed loved ones who have passed, and weekend processions with costumed participants.
The free festival offers two days of live music and poetry, a fashion show, storytelling and DJs. This year’s music stage headliner is Los Lobos, known worldwide for their mix of traditional cumbia, boleros and norteños with rock ’n’ roll and folk sounds.
For a full schedule of events Oct. 29-30, visit the Muertos Fest activities page.
El Rinconcito de Esperanza
Día de los Muertos is a tradition dating back centuries and usually focused on individual families visiting the gravesites of loved ones and creating altars in their homes, displays filled with ofrendas inviting the deceased to return for the night.
The Westside venue El Rinconcito de Esperanza offers a true neighborhood experience of Día de Muertos, with a festive procession, an altar honoring community members alongside altares focused on social and political figures and issues, and a traditional tapetes dyed sawdust carpet.
Local vendors including the MujerArtes Latina workshop on the Rinconcito grounds sell handmade wares and festive decorations, and a slate of local musicians including conjunto scholars Juan and Armando Tejeda and the Conjunto Heritage Taller will perform onstage.
The free festival opens Tuesday from 4-11 p.m., then runs daily through Nov. 8.
On Nov. 2 at 6:30 p.m., the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center offers its take on the holiday with La Vida de los Muertos, an educational theatrical production of music and dance focused on the Día de los Muertos tradition. The Guadalupe Dance Company, Dance Academy and Mariachi Academy will all participate in the festivities.
Across the street at the Progreso Community Gallery, a special altar created by students of the Lanier High School Visual Arts department will be on display. The altar is dedicated to victims of the Uvalde massacre, with one large desk honoring the two teachers and 19 smaller desks for each student.
Día De Los Muertos-inspired photography from Rick Vasquez will also be featured.
The altars and photography will remain on display during regular business hours through Dec. 2.
The Pearl celebrates Día de los Muertos on Nov. 2 from 5-9 p.m. with a procession featuring stilt walkers from the Guadalupe Dance Company, drummers and puppets, and live music from Mexican American folk singer and San Antonio native Tish Hinojosa.
For kids, the Mexican Consulate presents El Rincon del Alebrije, an activity offering wooden guitars and calavera banks for kids to paint and take home.
Community altars will pay homage to Mexican cultural hero Vicente Fernández, labor activist Emma Tenayuca, and the struggle and resilience of women.
Artist Regina Moya will present elegantly-dressed papier-mâché Catrina skeletons, creatives Martha Martinez and Larry Sevin will create a modern interpretation of a Mesoamerican Tzompantli skull wall, and artist sisters Manola and Maria Ramirez will invite attendees into their immersive Marigold Passage.
On Saturday from 3-10 p.m., San Antonio Missions National Historical Park comes to life with the 5th annual Día de los Muertos Celebrando las Misiones, organized by the City’s World Heritage Office.
The free daylong event begins at 2 p.m. in the Mission San José Granary with a blessing of ofrendas created by descendants of the families who have occupied mission grounds and adjacent properties for hundreds of years. A dance and drum procession from Mission San José Granary to nearby Mission Marquee Plaza follows.
Members of the public are invited to contribute to altars on the plaza stage and enjoy live poetry, music and dance performances alongside craft activities, face painting, and a screening of the animated film The Book of Life starring Diego Luna and Zoe Saldaña.
Centro Cultural Aztlan
For four decades, the Centro Cultural Aztlan on Fredericksburg Road has put Día de los Muertos altars by local artists on display.
The 45th annual exhibition brings love and partnership into the equation with La Muerte Es Pareja II, the second such show involving San Antonio artist couples.
Also on offer are complimentary pan de muerto and ponche de frutas, a crafts mercadito, and live music.
The free event runs Nov. 2 from 6-9 p.m.