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Dia de los Muertos

It’s a matter of life and death

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Death is the ultimate mind bender. If you’ve ever lost someone close to you, then you know what I mean. You’re here; they’re gone, and you must adapt. Adapting can be a disorienting process. Case in point: Something happens that only your friend would appreciate so you pick up the phone to call him only to realize halfway through the process that you don’t actually know the telephone number to the afterlife. Then there are the wonderful and terrible dreams where you discover the person you lost didn’t actually die and you have lengthy and important conversations with him that are later completely erased from your memory when you wake to the realization that it was just a dream — or was it?  


Death is as mysterious as it is inevitable, but it’s also a part of life. This is the essence of the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration — to honor and celebrate the lives of people who have passed on before us. 

This year there are four Dia de los Muertos celebrations I know of happening in Tacoma, and they won’t be anywhere near as morbid as I imagined. I recently learned that Dia de los Muertos is a

day full of bright colors, flowers, happy music, and incredible art. 

Some believe that our dead friends and ancestors actually come to visit us on Nov. 2. It would be rude not to plan a party for their visit, wouldn’t it?

Besides, I love dressing up for Halloween, and its origins are much darker. 

Alyssa Rosso, public relations coordinator for the Tacoma Art Museum, points out that Dia de los Muertos grew out of Aztec and other indigenous traditions in Latin America and that it took place in the summer. It was later moved to the fall with the Spanish Conquistadors to align with All Saints and All Souls Days. Halloween, the word derived from All Hallows Eve, was a harvest festival that started in Europe with Druid origins, and Christianization of the area is what started All Saints and All Souls Day. “In modern times, one celebrates death and the other fears it,” Rosso states.

On Halloween we dress up in costumes to chase away the evil spirits. On Day of the Dead we welcome the friendly ones. It actually makes sense to me — especially when there are margaritas involved.


Claudia Riedener, organizer of the Sixth Avenue Dias de los Muertos Procession, explains, “I grew up in a community that visited their ancestors in cemeteries during the All Saints and All Souls days (in) early November. Usually it was a sad, cold and tearful event. I love color and flowers. Celebrating the dead instead of mourning them makes so much more sense.”

Tacoma Art Museum

Tacoma Art Museum teams with Centro Latino for two weeks of Dia de los Muertos festivities beginning Saturday, Oct. 18, and culminating in a free community celebration Sunday, Nov. 2, from noon to 6 p.m. During the two-week celebration museum visitors can observe the creation of a large tapete (sand painting) in the lobby made with wet sand and brightly colored powdered tempura paints. Also on display will be several community-built altars called ofrendas and an artwork competition for students grades 6 through 12. To watch a video created at last year’s event that gives explanations about tapete and ofrendas, go to Tacoma Art Museum’s YouTube page:">

Sixth Avenue Procession

After the museum closes on Nov. 2, the Sixth Avenue Day of the Dead event begins.

Riedener explains that people will meet at 6 p.m. at Masa restaurant wearing bright colors and carrying their papier-mâché masks, puppets and other creations as well as musical instruments. They will proceed down Sixth Avenue spreading merriment. She says they call it a procession because the term parade sounds too military.  


Anyone can participate in the celebration. The papier-mâché art for the procession will be created during free workshops that are open to the public every Saturday in October from 10 a.m. to noon at Epworth LeSourd Methodist Church, 710 S. Anderson St. 

I pressed her for more details of what to expect at the event this year, but she just gave me that coy smile of hers and said, “I guess it all depends on the community. It is the neighbors and artists that make it happen. We just get the ball rolling.”  

Riedener also says, “Masa restaurant is a very gracious and generous host this year. Without a warm hub and some tasty Mexican treats it just would not be the same. Last year’s celebration was just amazing, and all things came together so nicely. I really give a lot of credit to the papier-mâché volunteer teachers Di Morgan, Lia Craven, Ann Meersman, and James Ceccanti. T-town’s very own Horns Of Destiny created a mood that just might be unsurpassable.”

To view a video of last year’s procession created by Jim Robbins go to:

Two Vaults Gallery

Two Vaults Gallery is planning a Dia de los Muertos celebration on Thursday, Oct. 16, from 5-9 p.m. Day of the Dead artwork with a Frida Kahlo theme by Lulu, Chris Bivins, Mykel Jantz, Susie Cowan, Barbara Houshmann, Ricky Bridges, Chanda Castillo, Linda Lapping-DeSantis and a few others will be on display plus Mata Ortiz pottery from the village’s finest potters. 


Fresh pan de muertos (bread of the dead) and Mexican hot chocolate will be served. There also will be a visit from a 7-foot tall Katrina and a costume contest with a $100 Two Vaults gift certificate awarded for first place. 

Mad Hat Tea Company

The downtown Tacoma tea company pulls out the bones and skulls for its take on Dia de Los Muertos Thursday, Oct. 23. The shop will be decorated with everything dead. Dead art projects will fill corners. And the shop encourages everyone to bring their own shrines. The party runs 5-9 p.m.

If you go

[Tacoma Art Museum, Oct. 18-Nov. 2, 1701 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, events schedule at]

[Sixth Avenue Procession, Nov. 2, 6 p.m., Masa, 2811 Sixth Ave., Tacoma,]

[Two Vaults Gallery, Oct. 16, 5-9 p.m., 602 Fawcett Ave., Tacoma, 253.759.6233]

[Mad Hat Tea Company, Oct. 23, 5-9 p.m., 1130 Commerce, Tacoma, 253.441.2111]



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