SAN DIEGO — Hundreds of people visited the Old Town State Historic Park Sunday to check out the Fiesta de Reyes mall’s transformation for Día de los Muertos.
Also known as “Day of the Dead,” the holiday is observed every year in late October and early November as a way of celebrating both life and death.
“Día de los Muertos is a very special holiday,” said Eric Minella, Old Town event producer. “It’s about honoring and remembering our deceased love ones.”
The holiday, which has strong spiritual and cultural ties to Hispanic families, can be traced all the way back to the ancient Aztec civilization’s celebration of Mictēcacihuātl.
Considered the Queen of Mictlān, or the underworld, it was believed that Mictēcacihuātl watched over the bones of past lives, which were used to create new life in the land of the living.
Aztecs would place the skulls of the deceased around temples as a way of honoring Mictēcacihuātl during the month-long festivities that also included dancing and food to thank her protecting those who had passed.
When Spanish conquistadors invaded America, they forced many of the indigenous peoples they conquered — like the Aztecs — to convert to Catholicism. However, after witnessing the Aztec celebrations of death, Spaniards began to fuse these festivities with Catholic holidays of “All Saints Day” and “All Souls Day.”
Families would decorate graves, bring food to gravesites and light the way for the dead to return to their families as part of festivals for these holidays — traditions that paved the way for the modern day Día de los Muertos.
Now, with Día de los Muertos, it is believed that ancestors and loved ones who have crossed to the other side come to visit their families.
As a way of keeping the memory of those who have passed alive, families will often light candles or put up ofrendas, which are altars with photos of their loved ones with glasses of water and food as well as toys, snacks, clothes and trinkets that are symbolic of the deceased.
“Día de los Muertos is the opposite of Halloween,” Minella said. “It’s not about scary, it’s not about mourning death — it’s about remembering our loved ones who have passed, so it’s a special day.”
While for some families the holiday brings with it a weeklong ritual, the holiday is officially observed on Nov. 1 and Nov. 2 each year. This year, organizers at Fiesta de Reyes in Old Town turned the celebration into a four-day experience.
On top of traditional ofrendas and other decorations, the festival featured live entertainment, face painters, food, drinks and more.
The first two days of the festival took place over the weekend. Celebrations will continue after Halloween on Nov. 1 and Nov. 2 from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
FOX 5’s Danielle Dawson contributed to this report.