Dia de Muertos Image

Austin Día de Los Muertos/Austin Day of the Dead

Oct. 21 – Nov. 4, 2017

Austin’s unifying, indigenous holiday, Dia de los Muertos, has grown into a combination citywide party, procession and other events scheduled over three weeks, each celebrating the city’s multi-ethnic heritage.

From festivals, concerts and theatrical performances to altars and religious observances, Dia de los Muertos – now Austin’s most popular Latino-themed annual ritual – holds cultural significance and gravity of Dia de los Muertos.

The holiday’s commercial appeal across racial lines is a source of pride to Latino families, while also a mass-market consumer, corporate and cross-cultural branding play (witness the recent Disney trademark request of the name). Few U.S. cities celebrate Dia de los Muertos like Austin, which for 30 years has seen numerous affiliated activities draw hundreds of thousands of locals and visitors.

A new synergy is building around Dia de los Muertos, from support from the City of Austin, the University of Texas and other colleges, corporations, the music and cultural arts industries and media to communities of all ethnic stripes.

Look for events across Austin and Central Texas, from October 21-November 4, listed on our events page.  

Athough the holidays of Dia de los Muertos and Halloween are sometimes confused, read below to understand the traditions that make Dia de los Muertos a distinct cultural holiday. 


Día de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) is a holiday celebrated on November 1 and 2. The origin of the holiday traces back to ancient Mesoamerican traditions that honored the souls of deceased loved ones. Aztec and Mayan culture was blended with Catholic traditions following the arrival of Spanish conquistadores in the 16th century, establishing the holiday's religious imagery and concurrence with All Souls Day and All Saints Day. 

Through festivals and lively celebrations, Dia de los Muertos celebrates the lives of the deceased with food, drink, parties, and activities the dead enjoyed in life. Dia de los Muertos recognizes death as a natural part of the human experience, a continuum with birth, childhood, and growing up to become a contributing member of the community. On Dia de los Muertos, the dead are also a part of the community, awakened from their eternal sleep to share celebrations with their loved ones. 

The legend of Dia de los Muertos is anchored on the idea that the gates of heaven are opened at midnight on October 31, and the spirits of all deceased children are allowed to reunite with their families for 24 hours. On November 2, the spirits of the adults come down to enjoy the festivities that are prepared for them.

In many villages, beautiful altars are made in each home. They are decorated with candles, buckets of "cempasuchil" or wild marigolds flowers, mounds of fruit, peanuts, plates of mole, stacks of tortillas and big Day-of-the-Dead breads called "pan de muerto." The altar will have plenty of food, hot cocoa and water for the weary spirits. Toys and candies are left for the young souls, and cigarettes and shots of mezcal are offered to the adult spirits.

Although marked throughout Latin America, Dia de los Muertos is most strongly associated with Mexico, where the tradition originated. The most familiar symbol of Dia de los Muertos may be the "calacas" and "calaveras" (skeletons and skulls), which appear everywhere during the holiday: in candied sweets, as parade masks, as dolls. These are also placed on the altars for decoration.

On the afternoon of November 2, the festivities are taken to the cemetery. People clean and decorate tombs with flowers and get together to listen to the village band and reminisce about their loved ones.

Day of the Dead has been a part of our communities in Texas for centuries, and it continues to grow bigger every year in the capital city!