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10 Must-Do Tips for Días de los Muertos

The Oakland Museum of California’s largest annual event—the Days of the Dead Community Celebration—is one of the East Bay’s most popular events for Días de los Muertos. This year’s Celebration on Sunday, October 16 marks the 22nd anniversary! Whether you come every year or you are just beginning to learn about the tradition, here are the top 10 tips to help you get the most out of this exciting day at OMCA.
I’ve had the honor of working on the Oakland Museum of California’s largest annual event—the Days of the Dead Community Celebration—for the past four years. This year’s Celebration on Sunday, October 16 marks the 22nd anniversary, and over time it’s become one of the East Bay’s most popular events for Días de los Muertos. Whether you come every year or you are just beginning to learn about the tradition, here are my top 10 tips to help you get the most out of this exciting day at OMCA.
1. Get tickets ahead of time.

Avoid the long line—buy tickets ahead online, so you don’t have to wait at all to get in. Plus, you will save up to $4 off each ticket—which you can use to buy some delicious agua fresca or an empanada. Even better, purchase an OMCA Membership to get in faster and to come back to the Museum for free.

2. Hop on BART.

I highly recommend taking BART. It’s the easiest, most convenient way to get here since we’re only a block away from Lake Merritt Station. And taking public transit also connects to the spirit of Días de los Muertos—it’s a gesture that acknowledges Mother Earth and how we can change our habits to sustain life.

3. Come ready to eat!

Eight trucks from Off the Grid will be parked on 10th street and serving a range of Latin-inspired foods—you can check OMCA’s Twitter to see which trucks will be at our curb. Blue Oak café is also serving a special themed menu starting at 11 am, so be sure to get a delicious agua fresca or fresh squeezed juice.

4. Bring cash for the Mercado.

In the Mercado, or market, you’ll find local makers and artists, plus the El Sol Bakery from Fruitvale selling classic Pan de Muerto, or bread of the dead. From David Tafolla’s Days of the Dead-themed prints to Rachel Anne Palacios’s charm bracelets, you’ll find something unique and special to take home for your own Días de los Muertos altar. The OMCA Store also offers unique apparel—be sure to get a Days of the Dead t-shirt before they sell out!

5. Join the procession and reflect at the altars.

The ceremony opens with a procession led by spiritual leaders of the Días de los Muertos Committee to establish sacred space. This is a great way to center yourself, reflect on why you have come to the Celebration, and contemplate the past year—whether it’s through gratitude or an expression of loss. Begin at the directional altar, located by the Koi Pond, which sets the tone for the whole celebration. The four directions of the altar honor elders, children, women, and men, inviting a spirit of positive energy, rejuvenation, and regeneration. After that, do a big loop through the Gardens and visit the community-created altars.

6. Heal with curanderas.

This year, Curanderas Sin Fronteras will be offering traditional healing services for free. They’ll read your spirit, cleanse you with smoke from burning copal resin, and pray with you as a part of a healing ritual. When it’s all said and done, you should come out and feel released from whatever burden you have been carrying.

7. See the Black Panthers exhibition.

All Power to the People: Black Panthers at 50 is appropriate to the season because it’s all about honoring the past, and recognizing what that legacy means today. Reflect on what the history of the Black Panthers means to your life, your family, the city, and the nation. Afterwards, visit the directional altar to see a dedication to the Black Panthers, with contributions from former Panthers Tarika Lewis and Emory Douglas.

8. Paint your face.

The Laney College Cosmetology Department will be doing traditional and contemporary versions of calaca (skull) face painting. This is a living culture, and face painting is one way that people represent and engage with the tradition, which you can trace all the way back to classic Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada’s iconic images of calaveras (skeletons).

9. Savor the performances.

The Days of the Dead Community Celebration has two stages, so there’s a lot to see. The amphitheater stage on 10th Street will feature Aztec dance, mariachi, and traditional Jalisco harp music. To experience the full color of this tradition, don’t miss the Ballet Folklorico performance with a full ensemble of traditional dances and costumes. You’ll also see Gabriela Sepúlveda, known for her appearances on American Idol and La Voz (the Spanish-language version of The Voice), playing with Mariachi Tapatío—it’ll be a real treat.

Bang Data, this year’s featured performer, will be the life of the party with their Latin fusion sound—a little bit of cumbia, a little bit of funk, and a little bit of hip hop. They’ve been a favorite in the Bay Area for a long time, and have been featured on NPR and the hit TV show Breaking Bad. Their sound is energetic and youthful. You’ll have a lifted spirit after listening and dancing to their music.

10. Don’t miss the demos.

At the tortilla-making demonstration, you’ll get to experience the traditional way—not the easy way—to make tortillas from scratch, starting with the corn kernel. In the Mercado, Alicia Diaz will be doing a sugar skull demonstration and kids can try their hand at decorating. And at the cartonería (paper mache) demonstration, you’ll see how artisans put together the calaca itself and decorate it.

The 22nd Annual Days of the Dead Community Celebration takes place on Sunday, October 16, 2016, from 12 pm to 4:30 pm at the Oakland Museum of California. Tickets are available online.