When Halloween falls on a weekend, as it does this year, it’s easy to fill Friday through Sunday with school or community carnivals, family get-togethers and, of course, trick-or-treating. If there’s any room left in your schedule, you may want to consider exploring another holiday that’s big in the Southwest this time of year — Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. The vibrant Mexican tradition of honoring and celebrating deceased family and friends dovetails nicely with Halloween, though the two are not related. This weekend, you’ve got three chances to see what it’s all about:
Albuquerque’s Ehecatl Aztec Dancers, a colorfully costumed warrior-style dance group that’s performed worldwide, will kick off Mesa’s Day of the Dead events at 10 a.m. Saturday with a lively performance that combines music, dance and storytelling in English, Spanish and Nahuatl, the ancient language of the Aztecs.
As their drumbeats fade, eleven other Latin music and dance groups will supply live entertainment on three stages throughout the festival grounds. You’ll also find an open-air “mercado,” or market, stocked with traditional and contemporary jewelry, art, crafts and Dia de los Muertos-themed items. Children’s activities, food vendors and art displays (including an exhibition of altars made by community members and Mesa artist Virginia Aguero) ensure there’s plenty more to see and do.
The celebration culminates in a 4:30 p.m. Sunday procession to a community altar, where — as in traditional Mexican observances of the holiday — you’re invited to leave mementos or offerings to honor loved ones who have passed away.
Details: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday at Mesa Arts Center, 1 E. Main St. Free. (480) 644-6500 or mesaartscenter.com.
If anyone knows how to throw a party that honors and celebrates the deceased without becoming either too somber or insincere, it’s Chandler’s Xico, Inc. The multidisciplinary arts organization created in 1975 by local Chicano and Native American artists was celebrating Día de los Muertos in the East Valley before most people north of the border knew what it was, and they’ll put on their 31st celebration Saturday in downtown Chandler.
The festival features traditional music and dance by local performers, storytelling, children’s activities, folk arts and crafts, ethnic food, an altar for your mementos, and a 5 p.m. community candlelight procession.
It all happens in conjunction with an exhibition of local art at Xico’s gallery, just across the street at 44 S. San Marcos Place. Titled “A Celebration of Life,” it features works that illustrate artists’ personal connections to Día de los Muertos and altars.
Details: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday at Dr. A.J. Chandler Park, 3 S. Arizona Ave. Free. (480) 833-5875 or xicoinc.com.
Song, dance and storytelling wait around virtually every corner at Desert Botanical Garden’s Día de los Muertos Celebration, thanks to performers stationed throughout the picturesque grounds. Highlights include “calacas encantadas,” or enchanted skulls, that will greet visitors along the trails; storytelling at 11:30 a.m. Saturday and 3:30 p.m. Sunday with noted Arizona author Stella Pope Duarte; and performances by members of the Guerrero Family, the creative Mesa brood that includes prominent artist and patriarch Zarco Guerrero, musician and founding member of The Phoenix Fridas Carmen de Novais, and recording artist Quetzal Guerrero.
An altar with artist-created “ofrendas,” or offerings, will honor Día de los Muertos, the garden’s past and present, and the act of gardening itself. A mercado will feature Mexican food and pastries, as well as Mexican art, for sale. Events conclude with “La Procesión,” a colorful, musical march to the garden’s exit and community altar.
Details: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Desert Botanical Garden, 1201 N. Galvin Parkway. $13.50-$15 per adult, $5-$7.50 per child. (480) 941-1225 or dbg.org.