Día de los Muertos celebrations kick off in San Antonio with the annual Día de los Muertos Festival — better known as Muertos Fest — at Hemisfair this weekend.

The popular, free outdoor festival is now firmly ensconced at Hemisfair, having given over its former home in La Villita to the newer Day of the Dead San Antonio festival, which started with a bang in 2019 but ran into COVID-19 in 2020.

That festival will not occur again this year, beset by the lingering pandemic and construction at its La Villita home, but Chef Johnny Hernandez will present a river parade for a third year.

“Day of the Dead has always been about bringing family and friends together,” Hernandez said, happy to return to the in-person format which “will bring a lots of much needed joy” to the city.

Other events throughout San Antonio include community altars at the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center and the Pearl, an arts-and-artisans themed celebration at La Villita, a screening of the Disney movie Coco at the San Antonio Botanical Garden, a special designer altar at Ruby City, and a traditional Altares y Ofrendas exhibit at Centro Cultural Aztlan.

Muertos Fest

The larger footprint of Hemisfair allowed Muertos to expand to 50 altars in 2019, and that growth continues with 60 altars lining Nueva Street in the park for the 2021 event.

Surrounding the altars will be two-day spectacle, with a “rolling disco” DJ stage, live performances by a list of San Antonio music favorites from Santiago Jimenez Jr. and Eva Ybarra to Luna Luna of Dallas.

Other performances will feature dance troupes and mariachi bands, poetry readings, and the festival’s signature dance, drum, and puppet procession running twice, at 7 p.m. on Saturday and 3 p.m. on Sunday.

Fashion designer Agosto Cuellar has curated “Walk Through the Marigolds,” a Sunday evening procession featuring models wearing fashions crafted from Goodwill second-hand clothes.

River Parade

In 2020, Hernandez sponsored a river parade put on without spectators and broadcast for viewers, with 20 floats featuring giant calaveras decorated by San Antonio artists. For 2021, the parade is welcoming all San Antonians to populate the river banks, returning to its traditional ticketed seating format.

Tickets for the Oct. 29 Day of the Dead river parade range from $17 to $27 along the parade route at river level, to $50 in the Arneson River Theater amphitheater seating area. Downtown bridges offer one way to glimpse the parade for free, but get crowded early. The parade begins at 7:30 p.m.; KSAT-TV will air the colorful, music-filled parade beginning at 8 p.m.

Expect at least one new artist-decorated calavera, with street artists Shek Vega and Nik Soupe of Los Otros murals painting live on a river float. Another float will feature Benito the alebrije dog, and Hernandez said the Lucha Libre Barge is sure to please.

Ruby City

Cuellar is also featured at Ruby City, where he was commissioned to build a Day of the Dead altar in the plaza of San Antonio’s contemporary art jewel.

The designer will be on hand starting Oct. 30 building the altar from recycled and reused materials. The altar will remain on view through Nov. 2.

Centro Cultural Aztlan

Centro Cultural Aztlan hosts the city’s oldest public Día de los Muertos celebration, this year returning to an in-person event for its 44th iteration.

The neighborhood community center played host Oct. 1 to the unveiling of the first ever U.S. Postal Service Day of the Dead-themed stamp, and on Nov. 2 will hold a reception for its annual Altares y Ofrendas exhibit.

The 2021 exhibit will focus on the “artistic, cultural, and religious facets of this popular pre-Columbian Mexican tradition where death is seen as a natural part of life,” and mourning is balanced with humor. Artists include Hector Garza, Henry De Leon, Elizabeth Hernandez, the Negrete Family, and Don Nuñez.

Mission San José

The City of San Antonio World Heritage Office will host its annual Celebrando las Misiones on Oct. 30, from 2-10 p.m. at  Mission San José and Mission Marquee Plaza.

The free festivities begin at Mission San José’s Granary with a blessing by Danza Azteca de Yanaguana, an educational workshop by artist Terry Ybañez, and altars on display. A dance and drum procession will then lead the audience to Mission Marquee Plaza, where visitors can contribute to the community altar.

Anthony “The Poet” Flores will narrate the history, tradition, and symbolism of Dia de los Muertos throughout the event.

Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center

Altars go on display Nov. 1 at the Progreso Community Gallery as part of the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center’s free La Vida de los Muertos celebration Nov. 1-2.

At 7 p.m. on Nov. 2, (November 2), performances by the Guadalupe Dance Company, Guadalupe Dance Academy and Mariachi Guadalupe will take place on the Guadalupe Center campus.

Muertitos Fest

SAY Sí’s Muertitos Fest 2021: Artes Curativas from 3-9 p.m. on Nov. 2 will pay homage to native and indigenous traditions of healing.

The free event at SAY Sí’s new Brazos Street location on the West Side will feature artisan vendors, entertainment, educational workshops, and an exhibition of student and visiting artists.

Carnaval de los Muertos

The URBAN-15 Group will bring sight, sound, and spectacle to Elmendorf Lake Park for a free Nov. 2 performance at 7 p.m.

Dancers and drummers will be bathed in light to lend an ethereal sense to the Carnaval de los Muertos display, “as a metaphor of today’s current events in which reality is out of focus, blurred,” according to the troupe’s website. Honoring the dualistic traditions of Día de los Muertos, “this procession of impressionistic apparitions carries both the pain and joy of this epoch.”

Esperanza Peace & Justice Center

The Esperanza Peace and Justice Center will host its annual Día de los Muertos celebration for one week, Nov. 1-8.

The free event centers around a large community altar at the corner of Guadalupe Street and South Colorado Street, focused on the more than 4,600 members of the San Antonio community who have died of COVID-19.

Other community altars will fill the Rinconcito de Esperanza, and visitors will be encouraged to tour the recently installed Viviendas y Jardines del Westside in the surrounding blocks.

The center will also offer virtual programming each evening at 7 p.m., promising “música, poetry and calavera readings,” with tutorials on altar-building.

La Villita Arts Village

Though La Villita has played host to the city’s largest Day of the Dead celebrations in the past, this year its Arts Village will hold a smaller event Oct. 29-31.

Starting at 3 p.m. Oct. 29, food and beverage tents will line Villita Street in anticipation of the evening river parade.

Then beginning at 11 a.m. on Oct. 30 and Oct. 31, festivities will include arts and crafts for children in the Plaza Nacional, followed by musical entertainment at the Arneson River Theater.

The Pearl

From Oct. 30 through Nov. 7, the Pearl will host a community altar made by sisters Manola and Maria Ramirez.

Their altar will honor the entire San Antonio community, using “ethereal elements” including traditional cempasúchil — marigold flowers used in Day of the Dead celebrations — and a tinsel heart to create the sense of a place of worship, according to the Visit San Antonio website.

San Antonio Botanical Garden

The Day of the Dead-themed Disney movie Coco is proving to be a perennial favorite.

The latest in the series of Foodie Cinema events at the San Antonio Botanical Garden features a screening of Coco alongside holiday-appropriate cuisine by chef Katrina Flores, Nov. 1 from 6:30-9 p.m.

A $60 fee will include the film and featured dishes of pork tamales, candied pumpkin, mole negro, pan dulce with champurrado, and a blood orange marigold margarita.

Registration is required, with a deadline of Oct. 29 at 6:30 p.m.

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Nicholas Frank

Senior Reporter Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with...