Dia de los Muertos 2020

Throughout Latin America and the diaspora, this is the time of year when families and communities gather to remember and celebrate their ancestors.  It is believed that between November 1st and 2nd the portal between the living and loved ones who have passed is open, allowing for direct contact and communication.  It is a time of remembrance and celebration of life and less about sadness and grief.  This tradition has its roots in Mesoamerican indigenous cosmovision where death is viewed as a part of the natural cycle of life.  This belief system is not rooted in the western mentality of good and bad, rather in the duality found in nature which embodies balance.

We observe these traditions acknowledging that the year 2020 has been filled with countless challenges and deep losses, including a pandemic, racial violence and injustice, immigration fears, wildfires and climate destruction.  Honoring our ancestors especially during this time of uncertainty connects us to their strength and resiliency and reminds us that we are their legacy and that we will get through this difficult time together as a community. 


UCSF BCH Observances

Community Altars at BCH - Oakland and Mission Bay 

The Community Altars (ofrendas) will be in display at both campuses, located at the Friendly Cafe in BCH Oakland and the main lobby in Mission Bay from Monday, November 2 - Friday, November 6. 

We welcome staff to participate in our Community Altar by adding a written dedication to a loved one that has passed away and/or by sharing photos of your dearly departed. Dedications can be picked up and dropped off in the following locations:  

  • Oakland: Trailer 2 - Social Services Dept (at the back of the courtyard)
  • Mission Bay: Center for Families  

Please submit only photocopies of the photo since they cannot be returned to you. All dedications will be burned as blessings in a later date. 

Virtual Ofrenda 

We welcome you to place an object, image, words, and dedicate it to a loved one. Please respect and honor this virtual sacred space. Please do not post a patient unless you are a family member.

Click here to the BCH Virtual Ofrenda

El Show de Colores

Norma Guerrero Perez and Susy Garcia of the Family Resource and Information Center and Margot Lee from the Playroom will be hosting a bilingual show called "El Show de Colores" on Wednesday, November 4 at 11:30 am. They will dedicate this show on the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). This is the first show that will be aired on both Oakland and San Francisco campuses. 

Coco Movie

Disney and Pixar's Coco movie will be showing on our BCH closed-circuit tv. Showtimes include the following:

  • BCH Oakland - 12 pm on November 3, 4, 9, and 10
  • BCH Mission Bay - 4 pm on November 3, 4, 9, and 10


Local Events

Fruitvale Dia de los Muertos Festival

For 25 years, the annual Oakland Día de los Muertos Festival has welcomed tens of thousands of visitors to the vibrant, culturally-rich Fruitvale neighborhood  for a free, outdoor, family-friendly event taking place to commemorate the Mexican traditions around the Día de los Muertos. Festival attendees enjoy world-class live music, family-friendly games, rides and activities, traditional Latin American artisans, and the stunning altares created by community members paying homage to los Muertos

2020 is a year like no other. While we are devastated that we cannot come together in person, we are excited to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of this incredible cultural event together online.

Festival of Altars

Mission Cultural Center, San Francisco
November 2, 2020, 5:30 pm - 9:30 pm 

Live on MCCLA FacebookInstagram and YouTube

On November 2nd, Day of the Dead Festival of Altars will be streamed via YouTube channel and Facebook. Please tune in and participate in a non-denominational ritual with the altars located in the Mission Cultural Center.



The celebration of Day of the Dead dates back to pre-colonial traditions observed by several indigenous civilizations such as the Aztecs and Toltecs. Death was not considered the end of existence, but rather another chapter of life, in which they can celebrate the lives of the deceased and honor their memories. Día de los Muertos recognizes death as a natural part of the human experience, a continuum with birth, childhood, and growing up to become a contributing member of the community.  In present times, Día de los Muertos combines indigenous rituals with Catholic traditions brought to the region by the Spanish.

Traditions of Día de los Muertos throughout Latin America  

Mexico is probably the best known for its Día de los Muertos celebrations which includes pageantry, processions and public display of altars to the dead.  

In the Andean regions of Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia families gather together in cemeteries to remember ancestors and loved ones with offerings of food which include: colada morada, a spiced fruit porridge made with Andean blackberry and purple maize and guagua de pan, a bread shaped like a swaddled infant that is sometimes filled with cheese or guava. In Bolivia the Día de las Ñatitas or Day of the Skulls is an ancient Bolivian ritual celebrated on November 9 where skulls of ancestors are decorated with flowers and pampered with cigarettes, coca leaves and other treats to bring good luck to the family.

In Brazil the holiday of Finados  is celebrated on November 2, when people go to cemeteries and churches with flowers, candles, and prayer to celebrate in a positive way those who have passed away.  

El Salvador’s Day of the Dead is celebrated as the Calabiuza Festival in the town of Tonacatepeque on the first of November where locals dress up with costumes and celebrate native folklore and mythology. Late into the night, locals cook pumpkin and honey for the attendees. The festival ends in the downtown plaza where the best dressed are honored. 

Haiti’s version of the Day of the Dead is The Vodou Festival of Fete Gede with most celebrations happening in the first two days of November. Believers get together in the main cemetery of Port-au-Prince and lay out gifts such as homemade beeswax candles, flowers, and bottles of rum stuffed with chili peppers, meant to warm Gede’s bones. 

Also celebrated on November 2nd, Nicaraguans’ traditions are similar to those of the rest of Latin America and Mexico. They visit deceased family members at the cemetery and bring flowers, bread, fruit, and candy. People come fully equipped with water-hoes, picks, and shovels to clean the tombstone(s) and surrounding areas. 

Similarly, Venezuelans celebrate both Día de Todos los Santos and Día de los Difuntos on November 2nd who go to the cemetery and visit the graves of loved ones, bringing flowers, cleaning their tombstone area and praying. 

In Guatemala, the ancestors are celebrated between November 1 (All Saints Day) and November 2 (Día de los Muertos).  Families assemble colorful altars in their homes, which include photos, flowers, favorite objects, food and drinks of the departed.  Many still visit the cemeteries and sit by the graves to eat in community the traditional food of the season, fiambre.  In Sacatepéquez, enormous and vibrantly colorful kites are displayed and flown, creating a symbolic connection to the spirit-world. 



Meaning Behind Some Observances


    • Pictures of ancestors and loved ones who have recently passed are often considered one of the most important objects during Día de los Muertos
    • Photos are used to draw deceased relatives into the living realm, so they can find their way to the family altar and reunite with loved ones.   
      Flowers and Candles
      • Cempasúchil (Mexican marigold) - It’s said that the yellow/gold color of the petals holds the warmth of the sun that guides loved ones during this period. 
      • Candles are also lit on the eve of Día de Todos los Santos (October 31st) to also help guide ancestors.
      • Corona de flores (flower wreath) and other flowers shaped into various religious figures can often be seen in cemeteries across El Salvador, where this special day is observed on November 2nd, Día de los Fieles Difuntos

        Calaveras De Alfeñique (Sugar Skull) 

        • Mainly seen in México, the calaveras or calaveritas are often molded from granulated sugar, meringue powder and water into the shape of the skull. Many Mexicans have a different relationship with this shape and it is not considered scary. They represent the loved ones who have passed and are receiving offerings. 
        • The sugar symbolizes the sweetness of life. 

          Food and Drink

          • Relatives often leave their loved ones the drinks and food they enjoyed the most. Sometimes the drinks are alcoholic or simply water, juice or favorite soda. It’s said that they get very thirsty when they make their way to the world of the living. 
          • The food that is left for loved ones varies by region. One popular item in México is pan de muerto, a delicious sweet bread especially made for this occasion. 
          • In Guatemala, many still visit the cemeteries and sit by the graves to eat the traditional food of the season, fiambre, in community.  This special dish is made with cold cuts, pickled vegetables and other foods that keep well without refrigeration for the all-day event.  Ayotes en miel (pumpkin with honey) are also a traditional dessert during this time. 

          Processions, Parades, and Performances
          • Regional dances are often performed with dancers often donning painted faces or masks. 
          • Many towns in Mexico celebrate Día de los Muertos during two days, November 1st (Todos los Santos) and November 2nd (Los Fieles Difuntos). Various colorful processions can be seen through México. 
          • Many towns also have performers who wear Aztec regalia as a way to remember their ancestors and customs. 
          • In Sacatepéquez, a town in Guatemala, enormous and vibrantly colorful kites are displayed and flown, creating a symbolic connection to the spirit-world. 
          • Many towns in El Salvador observe this special day on November 2nd, Día de los Fieles Difuntos, as a more intimate day of remembrance; however, many towns and younger generations are reaching back to their ancestral traditions. Tonacatepeque, a town in El Salvador, celebrates La Calabiuza on November 1st where several people perform as characters from indigenous mythology, like El Cipitío and La Siguanaba. 
          • And in the Bay Area, following the civil rights era, the Latinx community experienced a cultural renaissance and began the tradition of a public celebration of Día de los Muertos in the early 1970s, representing all communities from throughout Latin America.  The largest celebrations continue to take place in San Francisco’s Mission District and Oakland’s Fruitvale District which became home to the large Latinx immigrant community that settled in these areas.   
          • The celebrations include processions, public altars, art exhibits, food, dance, among other traditions. In the Bay Area, Día de los Muertos has taken-on its own form by bringing together diverse traditions and creating a new cultural significance for Latinx living in the diaspora.   


          Helping Kids Grieve

          Helping Kids Grieve - Sesame Street in Communities

          Coping with the death of a loved one brings enormous challenges for the whole family. Grieving may never completely end, but working through the difficult feelings can become easier with time. Through support, open conversations, and finding ways to keep the person’s memory alive, families can begin healing together.

          Be Honest and Concrete: Tips for Talking to Kids About Death by Anya Kamenetz and Cory Turner - NPR, May 28, 2020

          Whether it's a family pet or a loved one, every child will experience a death at some point — and their parents will likely struggle to explain it. We revisit the Mr. Hooper episode of Sesame Street, which provides a master class in talking about death and grief with young children.

          Responding to Change & Loss toolkit - National Alliance of Grieving Children

          The NAGC would like to encourage everyone to prioritize self-care. For many of us, there is grief in the loss of normalcy, and we encourage you to hold space for that. We want you to know you are not alone in the experience, the challenges it may be creating and the feelings that may be surfacing. In response to this, the NAGC (with the support of Alex Cares for Grieving Youth®) has released the booklet "Coping with Change and Loss" to be shared freely with families. 

          Online Resources
          • Parenting - Offers a wide array of resources for parents.
          • Parmenter Foundation - Provides hope and support for our community members who are grieving or in need of compassionate end-of-life care.
          • Courageous Parent's Network - A destination created by families, for families, to support, guide and strengthen them as they care for very sick children.
          • What's Your Grief? - Their mission is to promote grief education, exploration, and expression in both practical and creative ways.
          • Alliance for Grieving Children - Their mission is to raise awareness about the needs of children and teens grieving a death and provide education and resources to anyone who wants to support them.
          • Children's Grief.net  - Helping children with grief and trauma.
          • Widowed Parent - The Widowed Parent project is committed to supporting widowed mothers and fathers with children in the home.

          Suggested Reading List: For Adults Helping Children Grieve

           ·   Childs-Gowell, Elaine, Good Grief Rituals: Tools for Healing

          ·   Coles, Robert, The Spiritual Life of Children

          ·   Doka, Kenneth J., Children Mourning: Mourning Children

          ·   Fitzgerald, Helen, The Grieving Child: A Parent's Guide

          ·   Fox, S., Helping Groups of Children When a Friend Dies

          ·   Fry, Virginia Lynn, Part of Me Died, Too: Stories of Creative Survival Among Bereaved Children and Teeneagers

          ·   Furman, Erma, A Child's Parent Dies

          ·   Goldman, Linda, Life and Loss: A Guide to Helping Grieiving Children

          ·   Gordon, Audrey and Klass, D., They Need to Know: How to Teach Children About Death

          ·   Grollman, Earl A., Talking About Death: A Dialogue Between Parent and Child

          ·   Grollman, Earl A., Bereaved Children and Teens

          ·   Huntley, Theresa, Helping Children Grieve: When Someone They Love Dies

          ·   Jarratt, Claudia Jewett, Helping Children Cope with Separation and Loss

          ·   Krementz, Jill, How It Feels When a Parent Dies

          ·   Kroen, William C., Helping Children Cope with the Loss of a Loved One: A Guide for Grownups

          ·   Kubler-Ross, Elizabeth, On Children and Death

          ·   LeShan, Eda, Learning to Say Goodbye: When a Child's Parent Dies

          ·   Lord, Janice Harris, No Time for Goodbyes: Coping with Sorrow, Anger and Injustice after a Tragic Death

          ·   Lord, Janice Harris, Beyond Sympathy: How to Help Another Through Injury, Illness or Loss

          ·   Menten, Ted, Gentle Closings: How to Say Goodbye to Someone You Love

          ·   Schaefer, D. & Lyons, C., How Do We Tell the Children? Helping Children Understand and Cope When Someone Dies

          ·   Stein, Sara Bonnett, About Dying: An Open Family Book for Parents and Children Together

          ·   Trozzi, Maria, Talking with Children About Loss: Words, Strategieis and Wisdom to Help Children Cope with Death, Divorce and other Difficult Times

          ·   Wolfelt, A., Helping Children Cope with Grief

          ·   Worden, J. William, Children and Grief: When a Parent Dies

          ·   Ziegler, Robert G., Homemade Books to Help Kids Cope


          Dia de los Muertos Childrens Books 








          Special Thanks to the following indivduals who have worked to support this celebration

          Planning Committee Members
          • Aura Aparicio, Project Coordinator Center of Excellence for Immigrant Child Health and Wellbeing, Oakland
          • Rosa Arce, Interpreter Supervisor, Mission Bay
          • Susan Conrad, Spiritual Care Services Director, Mission Bay
          • Marcus Cordero, Compliance/HR Generalist, Oakland
          • Hilda Diaz, Interpreter Services Manager, Oakland
          • Alicia Dixon, DEI Administrative Assistant and QBI Logistics Specialist, Oakland
          • Jessica Easter, Staff Chaplain, Mission Bay
          • Lauren Franklin, Community and Volunteer Liaison, Mission Bay
          • Susana Garcia, Parent Liaison for Family Resource & Info Center, Oakland
          • Norma Guerrero-Perez, Parent Liaison for Family Resource & Info Center, Oakland
          • Gillian Murphy-Stephans, Chaplain, Oakland
          • Interpreter Services in BCH Oakland and Mission Bay
          • Malik Ali, Supervisor Hospitality Services, Oakland
          • Joy Gatdula-Van Tassel, Guest Screening Services Supervisor, Mission Bay
          • Deirdre Goe, Clinical Supervisor Child Life & Creative Arts Therapy, Oakland
          • Karin Keifer, Interim Director Food and Nurtrition Services, Oakland
          • Ian McPherson, Hospitality Services
          • Christopher Nelson, Support Services Project Speicalist, Oakland
          • Gilmarys Rivera, Administrative Assistant, Oakland
          • Jamarr Taylor, Supervisor Hospitality Services