El Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, came to life internationally with the release of Disney-Pixar’s movie “Coco” in November 2017.

The story follows a boy who is transported to the Land of the Dead, where he seeks the help of his ancestors to return to the land of the living.

But for many in the borderland, the sacred Mexican holiday – complete with the marigolds, monarch butterflies and catrinas – had long been part of our binational culture.

If you’re still unsure of its meaning and its symbolism, here’s a refresher from the Smithsonian Latino Center.

1.) It’s not the same as Halloween.

Halloween is celebrated Oct. 31, and Día de los Muertos on Nov. 2. Keep reading to learn the cultural differences.

2.) It originated in Mexico and Central America.

Día de los Muertos originated in ancient Mesoamerica (Mexico/northern Central America) where indigenous groups, including Aztec, Maya and Toltec, had specific times when they commemorated their loved ones who had passed away.

After the arrival of the Spanish, this ritual of commemorating the dead was intertwined with two Spanish holidays: All Saints Day (Nov. 1) and All Soul’s Day (Nov. 2). Día de los Muertos is often celebrated on Nov. 1 as a day to remember children who have passed away, and on Nov. 2 to honor adults.

3.) It’s a celebration of life, not death.

Ancient Mesoamericans believed that death was part of the journey of life. Rather than death ending life, they believed that new life came from death.

Día de los Muertos is an opportunity to remember and celebrate the lives of departed loved ones. Like any other celebration, Día de los Muertos is filled with music and dancing.

4.) The ofrenda is a central component.

The ofrenda is often the most recognized symbol of Día de los Muertos. This temporary altar is a way for families to honor their loved ones and provide them what they need on their journey. They place down pictures of the deceased, along with items that belonged to them and objects that serve as a reminder of their lives.

Every ofrenda also includes the four elements: water, wind, earth and fire.

Water is left in a pitcher so the spirits can quench their thirst. Papel picado, or traditional paper banners, represent the wind. Earth is represented by food, especially bread. Candles are often left in the form of a cross to represent the cardinal directions, so the spirits can find their way.

5.) Flowers, butterflies and skulls are used as symbols.

The cempasúchil, a type of marigold flower native to Mexico, is often placed on ofrendas and around graves. With their strong scent and vibrant color the petals are used to make a path that leads the spirits from the cemetery to their families.

Monarch butterflies play a role in the day because they are believed to hold the spirits of the departed.

Calaveritas de azucar, sugar skulls, are left on the altars for children who have passed. The skull is used as a whimsical reminder of the cyclicality of life, which is why they are brightly decorated.

Tuesday, Oct. 30


Devil’s Night Ghost Tour

9-11 p.m., Concordia Cemetery, 3700 E. Yandell

Costume contest, ghost stories by Lost El Paso Paranormal. Adults only.

How much: $15

Info: lostelpasoparanormal; 915-503-8960   

UTEP Altar and Display

UTEP University Library, Third Floor Gallery, 1900 Wiggins Way 

Open 7 a.m.–1 a.m. Monday-Thursday; 7 a.m.–8 p.m. Friday; 9 a.m.–6 p.m. Saturday; noon–1 a.m. Sunday through Nov. 9

Info: utep.edu/library; 915-747-5697

 Wednesday, Oct. 31


Downtown Zombie Crawl

8-10 p.m., El Paso Museum of History, 510 N. Santa Fe

A costumed ghost tour of the former cemeteries and forgotten burial grounds around Downtown starts at 8 p.m.; followed by a 10 p.m. crawl that ends at B-17 Bombers Oyster Pub, 201 S. El Paso. For 21+ only.

How much: $15 ghost tour; free crawl

Info: lostelpaso.com; 915-503-8960

Día de los Muertos Concert

Music by Green Velvet & Latnum

9 p.m., Tricky Falls, 209 S. El Paso

How much: $22; tickets at eventbrite.com

Info: trickyfalls.com; 915-351-9938

Thursday, Nov. 1


Altar de Muertos:

José Guadalupe Posada

Mexican Consulate Altar de Muertos

6:30 p.m., El Paso Museum of Art, 1 Arts Festival Plaza

The elaborately decorated altar honors Jose Guadalupe Posada’s work, featuring mariachi and ballet folklorico, hot chocolate and pan de muerto. The altar will be on view through Nov. 4.

How much: Free.

Info: epma.art; 915-212-0300.

Friday, Nov. 2


Día de los Muertos

Centro De Salud Familiar La Fe

6:30 p.m., La Fe Culture & Technology Center, 721 S. Ochoa

Community altars, ballet folklorico, danzas, mariachis.

How much: Free admission (mole plate for $6)

Info: lafe-ep.org; 915-545-7190

Town of Mesilla Día de los Muertos

Mesilla, N.M., Plaza

Folklorico dancing, food, music, artist vendors, traditional calacas attire, family altars and more, Nov. 2-3.

How much: Free; non-perishable food donations for Casa de Peregrinos Food Pantry encouraged.

Info: 575-639-1385

119th Annual Chamber Gala

El Paso Chamber Día de los Muertos Celebration 

6:30 p.m., Convention Center Plaza Downtown

Network with other chamber members with cocktails, dinner, dancing and music by Orkesta Mendoza.

Info: 915-534-0500

Saturday, Nov. 3


Día de Muertos Market

4-8 p.m., Cleveland Square Park, 510 N. Santa Fe in Downtown

Hosted by the Downtown Arts and Farmers Market; bring your own alebrije to decorate the community altar.

Fiesta de Muertos

2-4 p.m., El Paso Museum of Art, 1 Arts Festival Plaza

Calaveras, ofrendas, catrinas and marionettes, mask decorating, printmaking, photography workshop, music, folklorico dance, pan de muerto.

How much: Free.

Info: epma.art; 915-212-0300.

Noche de Calaveras Procession & Concert

5-9 p.m., El Paso Museum of Art, 1 Arts Festival Plaza

The parade and celebration will kick-off at the museum with mariachis, dancers, marching bands, catrinas, calavera masks and large-scale marionettes, and will end with a celebratory concert.

How much: Free.

Info: epma.art; 915-212-0300.

Día de los Muertos at Concordia Cemetery

2-8 p.m., 3700 E. Yandell

The event by the Concorida Heritage Association will feature revelers dressed in vintage Mexican clothing and traditional calaveras painted on their faces, artisans, vendors, live music, matachines, mariachis, Aztec dancers, food trucks, poetry readings and altars.

How much: $5; discounts for military, students and seniors; children under 6 are free.

Info: concordiacemetery.org

Que Florezca la Vida 

3-10 p.m., La Mujer Obrera, Café Mayapan, 2000 Texas

The 21st annual celebration features traditional foods, Danza Azteca, live music, workshops and community altars, catrina contest, poetry open-mic.

How much: Free.

Info: mujerobrera.org; 915-217-1126.

Saturday, Nov. 17


Viva Los Muertos Festival

2-10 p.m., El Maida Shrine Auditorium, 6331 Alabama

Family-friendly event by El Paso Punk Rock Flea Markets; altars, parade, food trucks, a mercado, music, art, Loteria.

How much: Free

Info: elpasopunkrockfleamarket on Facebook.


For a full list of haunted houses, corn mazes and other fall- and Halloween-related events, visit us at elpasoinc.com.


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