Dia de los Muertos figures on display at The Muckenthaler in Fullerton. Credit: Photo courtesy of The Muck

Organizers of holiday festivities have continued to find alternatives one by one as the year progresses, and this month comes with no exception. Orange County communities have scrambled to discover different ways to celebrate the fall season, whether it be for Halloween night or Dia de los Muertos, translated from Spanish to “Day of the Dead.”

While Halloween has become much more complicated, given the difficulties of trick or treating while social distancing, it has also opened the door for alternative celebrations with drive-thru movies, local haunts and pumpkin patches in Orange County.

Day of the Dead has also had to deal with its own setbacks as countless traditional Dia de los Muertos festivities were canceled throughout Orange County as well, including celebrations typically held at the Anaheim and Santa Ana cemeteries.

Dia de los Muertos Alternatives for the Family

This year has brought many challenges to event planning, including the Muckenthaler Cultural Center’s annual Dia de los Muertos community celebration where it usually hosts local artisans, live music and arts and craft opportunities for families.

To help bring the community together while maintaining a safe environment, the Muckenthaler in Fullerton will be distributing Dia de los Muertos art kits in a drive-thru format on Nov. 1 from 1-3 p.m., while supplies last — face masks to cover the mouth and nose required.

Dia de los Muertos is a Cultural Tradition

Contrary to popular belief, Dia de los Muertos, translated from Spanish to Day of the Dead, is not a Mexican version of Halloween. While Halloween is celebrated on Oct. 31, Dia de los Muertos is a multi-day celebration from midnight Oct. 31 to Nov. 2 of every year.

Dia de los Muertos is a symbolic Hispanic tradition where families come together to welcome back their deceased relatives for a brief time when the border between the spirit world and real world is believed to have dissolved. It’s like a family reunion where the lives of the deceased are remembered and celebrated among their relatives. Those who have passed are treated as the guests of honor with their favorite foods and other offerings at their gravesites or altars.

All Saints Day, Nov. 1, is typically to celebrate the lives of children who passed away, while
All Souls Day, Nov. 2, is to celebrate and honor the lives of adults who have passed away.

Sources: The Smithsonian and history.org

Volunteers at the center have been trying to find ways to keep the community connected especially during such uncertain and unprecedented times. In late March, the Muck began doing art kit kiosks every week, and continued doing so for the next 11 weeks. Each art kit included materials, instructions and which hashtag to use online so that the center’s community can appreciate each other’s art, even when they are apart.

“It’s really what keeps us going,” said Stephannie Bobadilla, the chief education officer at the Muckenthaler. “When we get to see our students’ faces, or parents sharing stories, or whoever’s doing the program at that time at whatever age, them sharing with us is what brings us joy.”

However, the Muckenthaler is a nonprofit, and as such, all of its programs and art kits have been running on grants and donations. With funding running low, the center cut its weekly art kiosks to pop-up events instead. The Dia de los Muertos art kits are the latest art kiosk pop-up, but with 300 kits available, Bobadilla encourages participants to arrive on time, considering past art kits have run out quickly. This art kit is open to all and visitors are allowed to pick up art kits for their neighbors as well to decrease exposure.

Another option for those looking to celebrate with loved ones is virtual celebrations through the Consulate of Mexico in Santa Ana.

Tonight, Friday October 30 at 7 p.m., the consulate will be hosting professor Gloria Arjona’s presentation of her latest book through Facebook live. In her bilingual book, “Posada’s Unknown Calaveras,” Argona discusses a collection of engravings and texts from José Guadalupe Posada from the early 1900’s. Posada is best known for creating La Calaca Garbancera, which is the iconic skeleton lady that is a symbol for the Day of the Dead celebrations.

But for those who aren’t available tonight, the consulate is also working with the OC Film Fiesta to stream short films provided by the Mexican Institute of Cinematography. The six short films are between nine to 15 minutes long each, and will be streaming on OC Film Fiesta till Nov. 3. Each short film is related to the customs and traditions celebrated for the Day of the Dead.

More events can be found on the consulate’s Facebook page as it hosts and co-hosts several events throughout each month to keep the community connected.

Reimagining Frights for Halloween

Every Oct. 31 the streets are filled with people knocking door to door, looking for some treats and occasional haunts. This year some of Halloween’s favorite activities are being reimagined as people begin to flock to the alternatives that this spooky season has in store.

Pumpkin Patches: No Halloween decorations are complete without carved pumpkins from the family. Pumpkin carving brings the holiday season together, and pumpkin patches pose as the perfect opportunity for photo-ops. However, even the pumpkin patches are subject to social distancing regulations and adjusted hours, so be sure to bring a mask and follow directions to keep it safe for everyone.

  • Tanaka Farms will have its pumpkin patch open through Oct. 31 from 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. It also offers curbside pick-up, and a U-Pick Pumpkin with a wagon ride. However, be sure to check its website because reservations are required.
  • Virtual pumpkin picking is an alternative solution to those who would rather stay within the safety and comfort of their homes. Pumpkin bundles can be bought at the website and delivered right to the customer’s doorsteps.

Movie Night: If there’s one thing about Halloween that will never change it’s the bingeing of late night horror flicks. Although sit-in movie theaters are still considerably risky, it doesn’t mean sitting at home all day is the only solution. Here are a few drive-in movie theaters to visit this weekend to bring the Halloween and theater experience back for a few thrills and screams.

  • The Frida Cinema has been hosting pop-up drive-ins, where movies are shown at several spots in Tustin, Anaheim and Santa Ana. The Frida Cinema will be showing a Universal Monsters triple feature of “Dracula,” “Frankenstein,” and “The Wolfman” tonight at the Mess Hall Market in Tustin. Oct. 31 will feature two showings of “The Nightmare Before Christmas” at the Zion Lutheran Church & School in Anaheim.
  • Starlite Movies will be hosting a drive-thru movie experience at the Brea Mall with all films starting at 7:30 p.m. Tonight will be the showing of “Beetlejuice,” the following night is “Hocus Pocus” and Nov. 1 will be “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” Starlite Movies will also be showing “Casper” tonight at the Outlets at San Clemente.

Trick or Treating: The trick or treating tradition has proven to be risky to execute this Halloween season. However, some communities have gotten creative and chose to hand out goodie bags in a drive-thru format.

  • Spooky Treat Trolley will be hosted by the city of Dana Point, where pre-packaged candy bags will be given to children ages 12 and under. The trolley will be stopping at several parks in Dana Point to drop off bags tonight from 3 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
  • Drive-Thru Trunk or Treat celebration is being hosted by Saddleback Church where it invites the community to stop by Northwood High School in Irvine for games, candy and decorated Halloween trunks — enjoying all festivities from the comforts of your car. The celebration will be taking place on Oct. 31 from 5 to 7 p.m.

Kristina Garcia is an intern for Voice of OC Arts & Culture. She can be reached at kristinamgarcia6@gmail.com.

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