Before I Die ABQ Festival Incorporates Day of the Dead Observances

Marigold Dia de los Muertos Festival Security

Marigold Parade Dia de los Muertos Festival Security

Halloween makes you think of skulls and skeletons, candy and candles. October 31 is also the start of Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, which is actually two days of life-affirming celebrations designed to express love and respect for deceased family members. The second annual Before I Die ABQ Festival, October 30 to November 4, 2018, in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico, will highlight these colorful traditions that originated in Mexico and Latin America.

The six-day festival brings together educational and entertaining events. The goal is to help people discuss and plan ahead for end-of-life issues. Tours of cemeteries, funeral homes, crematoria and a casket-making workshop, Death Cafe discussions, an obituary writing workshop, yoga for grief relief, film showings, and other activities will take place at multiple venues around Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Before I Die ABQ Festival events, many free or low-cost, include:

  • A Halloween/Dia de los Muertos party in Sunset Memorial Park on Wednesday, October 31 – Prior to the party, attendees can construct personal ofrendas (offering altars) honoring their loved ones;
  • All Souls Day Cremated Remains Committal Service at Mt. Calvary Cemetery in ABQ and Rosario Cemetery in Santa Fe on Nov. 2;
  • The colorful Marigold Parade & Festival in Albuquerque’s South Valley, where thousands gather wearing Dia de los Muertos skeleton makeup and creative costumes, on Sunday, Nov. 4.

Dia de los Muertos Traditions

Coco ofrenda

Ofrenda in Disney/Pixar film, Coco

The award-winning animated film Coco introduced Americans to the meaning behind the imagery associated with Day of the Dead celebrations. Common sights during Dia de los Muertos include:

  • Offerings (ofrendas) – a tableau with photos of the dearly departed, their favorite food and drink, a lit candle for each person, and objects that were meaningful to the departed.
  • Skulls (calaveras) – brightly decorated sugar or chocolate skulls represent departed loved ones.
  • Bread of the Dead (pan de muertos) – a sweet bread that’s shaped like bones or skulls.
  • Marigolds – either whole flowers or petals, said to guide the spirits of the dead to the land of the living, are liberally used in cemeteries and home ofrendas.
  • Papel Picado – colorful sheets of tissue paper with cutout designs that move in the slightest breeze.

Before I Die ABQ Festival

The first Before I Die ABQ Festival in 2017 attracted 600 participants to 22 events over six days. All participants in the 2018 festival can enter a drawing for two full-body burial plots in La Puerta Natural Burial Ground and other prizes. La Puerta is New Mexico’s first Green Burial Council-certified cemetery, located 15 miles south of Belen, NM.

Sponsors of the festival include, a website for individuals and families looking to lay to rest the cremated remains of their loved ones, and French Funerals & Cremations, Albuquerque’s largest and oldest family-owned funeral service company.

A portion of Before I Die ABQ sponsorship fees will be donated to charitable partner Fathers Building Futures (FBF). This 501c(3) nonprofit social enterprise empowers formerly incarcerated parents. FBF provides on-the-job workforce training and supports to enable sustainable futures for these people and their families. The caskets they make in their woodworking shop are biodegradable and kosher for Jewish burials. A portion of sponsorship fees may be tax-deductible as charitable donations.

Festival coordinator Gail Rubin, CT, is a pioneering death educator, author, and speaker. For more information about events and sponsorship opportunities, contact her at (505) 265-7215 or Gail[at]

Colorful Skulls