The celebration of the Days of the Dead is now very familiar to many Bay Area communities. This Meso-American holiday emerged in the 1970s, with official events in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Some forty years later, the Bay Area hosts the largest one-day celebration in the country. In Oakland, the Fruitvale Dia de los Muertos Festival has had as many as 100,000 visitors. The Oakland Museum of California recently held its 18th Days of the Dead ceremony and received nearly 3,000 visitors.

Days of the Dead celebrations aren’t merely about death; they honor the lives of those who have passed. They are also about creating a new relationship with death, one that is different from what we experience in the United States. In many ways, the holidays are cathartic, with vivid colors, altars, sugar skulls, crafts and a comical spirit that helps us deal with death by focusing on life.

San Francisco’s Day of the Dead Procession and Festival of Altars is Friday, November 2, 2012 in the Mission District. The Forgotten Stories, Remarkable Lives: Días de Los Muertos 2012 exhibition runs through December 9, 2012 at the Oakland Museum of California. For more information, visit museumca.org.

All images by Lauren Benichou. Taken at the Oakland Museum of California during the 18th Annual Community Celebration of the Days of the Dead, October 21, 2012.

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