OCEANSIDE — More than 25,000 celebrated Day of the Dead at Mission San Luis Rey on Oct. 30, with a mix of traditions and local spins on the holiday that laughs at skeletons and remembers loved ones who have passed away.
Dia de los Muertos is a blend of cultural and religious beliefs that celebrates the cycle of life and death.
The long-held holiday was first celebrated by the indigenous people of Mexico before Spanish explorers arrived. It was later combined with the Christian traditions of All Souls Day that is celebrated in early November.
Today, modern spins like car trunk altars and chalk cemeteries are included.
The Dia de los Muertos festival sprawled over mission gardens and lawn areas. In the sacred inner gardens more than 20 Dia de los Muertos altars decorated with arches of marigolds, loaves of sweetbread and rows of fruit and family photographs honored loved ones who have died.
“The altars are built by family members and volunteers to commemorate their loved ones,” Maureen Sullivan, director of special events at Mission San Luis Rey, said. “It takes two days to build the altars.”
Among the altars was one that honored mission friar Brother Kelly Cullen, who died a year ago.
In front of the mission church was a display of American classic cars from the 1950s to the 1970s decked out with custom graphics, chrome details and trunk altars.
Loved ones were also commemorated on a blacktop driveway that was turned into a chalk cemetery. Families used colored chalk and flowers to decorate 2-foot-by-2-foot squares in honor of those who have died.
In addition to opportunities to remember loved ones there was also plenty of music, entertainment and food. Two stages were set up for nonstop performances by dance troops and musicians. A row of more than 30 food vendors ran between the stage areas selling hot food, ice cream and kettle corn.
New this year was a children’s carnival area with mechanical rides, toss games and pony rides.
There was a crafts area for traditional sugar skull decorating and skeleton face painting.
“It’s a joyous celebration,” Sullivan said.
This is the 11th year Oceanside has celebrated the traditional Mexican holiday. In past years, Dia de los Muertos was celebrated at the downtown Civic Center. The last three years it has been held at Mission San Luis Rey.
“The location has changed, but we’re staying very true to the event,” Sullivan said. “It’s a perfect cultural fit.”