Although El Diá de los Muertos is essentially a Mexican remembrance for the dead, there’s a joy to its solemnity, as families leave favorite foods and offerings for their ancestors on marigold-encrusted graves and altars dressed up with photos of those who’ve crossed over. The imagery of skulls and skeletons that we connect with the All Souls Day-derived celebration isn’t meant to be scary, like Halloween ghouls; it’s all about visiting for one day with departed family members, symbolized by their old bones and grinning faces.
We’re lucky that Denver has a big community with Mexicano roots, making it a prime destination for muertos observances and displays of old traditions. Here are a few ways to welcome your own ancestors in 2018:
Westwood Family Nicho Exhibit
BuCu West Development Association, 4200 Morrison Road
Tuesday, October 30, 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.
The first of two Día de los Muertos events in the Westwood Creative District, the ongoing Nicho Project is becoming a tradition in the neighborhood, bringing community members together to build nichos (altars to family members who have passed on), enjoy pan de muerto and hot chocolate, and decorate skull cookies. All ages are welcome to participate and leave an offering to or memory of a loved one at the altar.
Denver's Oldest Día de los Muertos
La Raza Park, West 38th Avenue and Navajo Street
Thursday, November 1, 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Some will argue about which Día de los Muertos celebration in Denver is the oldest, but this one, spearheaded by Nita Gonzalez (the activist daughter of Corky Gonzalez, a Denver Chicano legend) and Servicios de La Raza takes over from Pirate’s decades of celebrations on Navajo Street, which moved to Lakewood along with the gallery. But it’s really the thought that counts, and Gonzalez and friends will carry on with respect for the Mexican holiday’s deepest intentions, with a candlelight procession beginning at 5:30 p.m. at La Raza Park and ending at North High School for dinner and festivities. Bring a candle and a photo of a lost loved one.
Fifth Annual Día de los Muertos Festival
Breckenridge Arts District campus, downtown Breckenridge
Thursday, November 1, 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Friday, November 2, 3 to 8 p.m.
Saturday, November 3, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Breckenridge Creative Arts tacked on the fall Día de los Muertos Festival to its summer art-festival schedule four years ago to add one last pre-ski-season stretch before the snow falls in earnest. Like the summer celebrations, this one is loaded down with free activities, from hands-on workshops with a Day of the Dead theme to Ofrenda, an art exhibition by Las Vegas artist Justin Favela, who is known for his piñata-inspired paper installations and sculptures (Ofrenda opens November 2 and runs through January 6 at Gallery@OMH, 136 South Main Street in Breckenridge). The three-day party ends on Sunday with a whole day of fun, beginning at 9 a.m. with dress-up assistance for La Corrida de los Muertos, a group run through town in Día de los Muertos finery. Race registration closes at midnight on October 31, so act fast. Find more info online.
Día de los Muertos exhibition
Art Gym Denver, 1460 Leyden Street
November 1 through November 23
Opening Reception: Thursday, November 1, 5 to 8 p.m.
Art Gym resident artist Tony Ortega curated this Día de los Muertos art exhibition by inviting a few of his friends—from old-guard painters and santeros to younger muralists from the Chicano and Mexicano communities. This one’s straight from the heart, and the opening also involves chocolate and appetizers by local Latina chef Damaris Ronkanen, who also owns Denver-based Cultura Craft Chocolate. Ronkanen also prepared an optional dinner at the Art Gym, should you choose to indulge.
Colfax Art Crawl & Día de los Muertos
40 West Arts District and Pirate: Contemporary Art
Friday, November 2, 5 to 9 p.m.
How are you spending your Day of the Dead this year? In Lakewood’s 40 West arts district, artists and galleries are throwing First Friday celebrations on November 2 that highlight the holiday’s custom of welcoming one’s ancestors. Led by Pirate (located at 7130 West 16th Avenue in Lakewood, where the gallery’s Day of the Dead show of community altars — a thirty-year tradition at its old spot on Navajo Street — is on display through November 11), 40 West’s Colfax Art Crawl & Día de los Muertos Celebration will go district-wide with more themed exhibits, Aztec dancers, piñatas and face painting.
Inaugural Día de los Muertos Celebration and Parade
Art District on Santa Fe
Friday, November 2, 4 to 9:30 p.m.
The Chicano Humanities and Arts Council was the center of Día de los Muertos festivities in Denver's Art District on Santa Fe for years, but after a move down the street to 222 Santa Fe Drive, CHAC threw a party for the early October opening of its annual muertos show, leaving the rest of the central art district to take the reins on the official holiday. Thus was born a new district-wide celebration and procession on Santa Fe, with help from the Museo de las Americas, the Mexican Consulate and others. The Museo, 861 Santa Fe Drive, is ground zero for activities including a community ofrenda, fee-based craft workshops, face painting and, at 7 p.m., a procession leaving from Galapago Street and West Ninth Avenue, followed by a Catrina costume contest back at the Museo. Other galleries up and down the drag will join in with festivities of their own. Down at CHAC, things will be quieter, but you can catch the stalwart gallery’s new group show Persistence, get your face painted and join community members as they remember their dead with community altars.
Catrina Ball and Gigantes Fiesta and Procession
Dickens Opera House, 300 Main Street, Longmont
Friday, November 2, 5 to 11 p.m.
Fiesta and Procession, free
Catrina Ball, $10 or $150 VIP/reserved seating
Firehouse Art Center joins the Longmont Museum in celebrating the Day of the Dead with the Gigantes Fiesta and Procession, which starts out with a fiesta, altar tours and face painting on Fourth Street, between Coffman and Main streets in Longmont, before segueing into a costume walk and procession of Gigante papier-mâché puppets to the Catrina Ball at the Dickens Opera House. There you’ll enjoy Aztec and folkloric dancers, eat and drink, and dance a little yourself.
Día de Muertos Exhibit and Celebration Mexican Cultural Center Gallery, 5350 Leetsdale Drive, Suite 200W
Closing Reception: Friday, November 2, 5 to 7 p.m.
Manuel Cordero’s Del Sur al Norte art exhibit, a collection of art pieces dedicated to migration and the reasons why people abandon their countries of origin, as well as altars that he made, have been on display since October 22; there will be a free closing party on November 2, when the artist will be present.
Día de los Muertos Lafayette Closing Reception and Face Painting
The Collective Community Arts Center, 201 North Public Road, Lafayette
Closing Reception: Friday, November 2, 6 to 8 p.m.
Lafayette’s Collective Community Arts Center also has a Día de los Muertos show ending soon (November 4), anchored by Colorado artists Arlette Lucero, Jose Mares and Karen Yust, with additional works by young artists from Centaurus High School. Enjoy those, along with traditional dancers and free face-painting sessions, at the November 2 closing reception; reserve a time in advance on the center’s website for your Catrina transformation.
Muertos in Westwood
The Empress, 3950 West Morrison Road
Saturday, November 3, 3 to 10 p.m.
Westwood’s second Day of the Dead celebration, hosted in the close-knit west Denver neighborhood by the creative district as well as arts collective and pop-up gallery the Empress, has all the right stuff for the whole family, from Aztec dancing and a procession to a pan de muerto cooking class and sugar-skull mask painting. But the highlight of the day will be an exhibition of altars and original art created by Westwood artists and community members.
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Día de los Muertos Celebration
Denver Botanic Gardens, 1007 York Street
Saturday, November 3, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
At first look, the Gardens might seem too upscale for Día de los Muertos, a grassroots celebration with pre-Columbian indigenous roots. But this place does it up right, channeling the true meaning of the observance with a Winged Souls exhibit of gigantic Catrina sculptures by artist Robert Soltero scattered across the grounds, among the last plants of the fall season. Add a memory of an ancestor to a message board inside the Boettcher Memorial Center and learn more about a beautiful tradition through crafts, art demonstrations, live entertainment and an artisan market of Day of the Dead-themed handmades; wear a costume and get your face painted for a nominal fee.
Day of the Dead Family Celebration
Longmont Museum and Cultural Center, 400 Quail Road, Longmont
Saturday, November 3, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The Longmont Museum’s annual nod to the city’s Latino constituents has been up since the middle of October, including displays of community altars and an exhibition of whimsical and brightly ornamented Mexican alejibres carved by artist Oscar Becerra. But many folks like to wait for the finale, when the museum erupts with live traditional music and dancing, Day of the Dead make-and-take crafts and an appearance by Lady Catrina herself. Costumes are encouraged.