Each season in Harris County offers a passport to unique Hispanic experiences, like the opportunity to celebrate Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead in Houston. Whether you are a professional Spanish translator looking to test your language skills and cultural knowledge, a member of the Hispanic community or simply someone wanting a new experience, there is something for everyone. While festivals in late October tend to celebrate Día de los Muertos, there are many other events that celebrate Hispanic culture through international foods, films, music, dance, handicrafts and performing arts.
In this article, we cover one of the most popular festivals among Houston’s Mexican community, Día de los Muertos.
MECA’s Día de los Muertos, Day of the Dead in Houston
MECA, a community-based non-profit in Houston’s Old Sixth Ward Historic District, at 1900 Kane Street, Houston, Texas. The organization functions to strengthen Houston by providing artistic and cultural programming, encouraging academic achievement, and providing community assistance services. Its core values include justice, equity, creativity, respect, and diversity. The organization’s Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead festival in Houston, is one of the programs that it sponsors each year.
Directions to MECA-Houston
What Is Día de los Muertos—the Day of the Dead?
In most American cities, Halloween is more widely celebrated than Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. But in Mexico and other Latin countries, Día de los Muertos is one of the most important holidays. However, as Latin populations have experienced tremendous growth in size and prominence in the United States, particularly in Houston and Dallas, the holiday is becoming increasingly important here too.
The celebration of deceased loved ones dates back thousands of years to the Indigenous people of Latin America, including the Aztecs and Mayans. However, when Spanish Catholics colonized, indigenous celebrations became merged with the Spanish celebration of All Souls’ Day. It was not until the 1970’s when Chicano artists began producing artworks that focused on the pre-Columbus celebrations that the holiday began to be celebrated as it is today.
Celebrating the lives of deceased loved ones is a traceable tradition in Latin America, dating back 3,000 years. Hybridizing indigenous tradition with the Catholic Spanish settler tradition of All Souls’ Day, Día de los Muertos has persevered as a wildly popular occasion, particularly in areas with strong Mexican and Central American communities. The holiday, as it presents today caught fire in the 1970’s, when Chicano artists worked to uplift the pre-existing rituals.
Despite the dark and somber theme, the holiday is celebrated joyfully and with respect to those who have passed on. While celebrated at the same time as Halloween, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, focuses on remembering and honoring the lives of family members, co-workers, neighbors, community members and others who were held close, rather than on fearing evil or malevolent spirits.
Building An Altar For Día de los Muertos
Just like in Mexico, the Day of the Dead festival in Houston lasts two days and is a time when families welcome back the souls of deceased loved ones. They build altars that serve two functions, to honor the deceased and to make an emotional and physical appeal for the souls to expend great energies to cross back over into our world. Thus, constructing the altar is a very emotional experience because families reflect on their memories of loved ones through photos and other keepsakes.
Encouraging the Dead to Return
Part of the altar is an emotional appeal to the spirit of the deceased, which lives on in another dimension. However, crossing-over into our dimension requires extraordinary energy and willpower. As a result, the spirit must be motivated by evoking emotions through imagery, photos, and keepsakes on the altar and through offering tempting food and drink. The food and drink also serve to replenish nutrients consumed during the crossover into our world. Some altars even include pillows for the soul to rest on. The first day of the celebration is reserved for children who have passed, and the second day reserved for adults.
A Day of the Dead celebration in Houston wouldn’t be complete without a few souvenirs to show your friends. While visiting the Sixth Ward, make sure to drop by the local U.S. Post Office located at 700 Smith St, Houston, TX 77002. The year, the U.S. Postal Service is celebrating Day of the Dead with 4 new commemorative stamps.