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Annual Day Of The Dead Celebrated In Downtown
Dia Altar
Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos, altars were part of the celebration on Friday, Oct. 29, at the Plaza del Rio Park in downtown Riverbank. The altars are to honor deceased relatives and invite their spirits to return to join in the seasonal celebration. Altars include photos of the departed, decorations and foods that appealed to them. The event returned to town after taking last year off for COVID concerns. Ric McGinnis/The News
Dia masked girl
One element of celebrating the Día de los Muertos on Friday was a costume contest. Singles and couples entered in the parade held on Friday, Oct. 29 at the Plaza del Rio Park in downtown Riverbank, including this young ‘masked’ girl. Before the parade, the entrants participated in other Day of the Dead activities, which ran through the evening, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Ric McGinnis/The News

Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, kicked off the seasonal fall weekend celebration last Friday, with the large gathering returning to Plaza del Rio Park in downtown Riverbank.

The celebration was first held here in 2019, but was absent in 2020, because of COVID concerns at the time.

The crowd seemed substantial for the Oct. 29 event, but City Council Member Cal Campbell and Mayor Richard O’Brien both said they thought it was a bit smaller than before. O’Brien said he hoped to be able to expand the number of participants, especially vendors, at next year’s celebration.

Día de los Muertos is a holiday celebrated from Oct. 31 through Nov. 2 inclusive, though other days, such as Nov. 6, may be included depending on the locality, according to sources. It reportedly has its origins in Mexico, as long as 3000 years ago, and is celebrated in many locations around the world among people of Mexican heritage.

The multi-day holiday reportedly involves family and friends gathering to pay respects and to remember friends and family members who have died. These celebrations can take a humorous tone, as celebrants remember funny events and anecdotes about the departed.

The Dia de los Muertos Celebration locally was a collaboration between the City of Riverbank and C.A.S.A del Rio Family Resource Center that attracted approximately 500 to the downtown plaza. There were 20 Ofrendas/Altars, 10 Catrina Contestants, and four Catrin Contestants at the event that was planned in a short amount of time.

“This celebration would not have been possible without the support of Araseli Zamora, who emcees the event and Gabriela Vigil Hernandez,” said Nancy Garcia, AVID District Director/Instructional Coach for Riverbank Unified School District. “They both take care of all the details that make the event successful.”

Samantha Sanchez won the Catrina contest and Jose Facio for the second time won the Catrin contest at the celebration.

“A highlight of the contest was hearing the winners give their victory speeches,” stated Garcia. “In Jose’s speech, he mentioned how last year was his senior year and he felt so disconnected from his school due to the pandemic. Being able to participate this year gave him a sense of being able to connect again and a sense of normalcy.”

She said that the feedback from the community was very positive and the crowd was so large that at certain times it was difficult to move around the plaza. Organizers closed the Third Street area in front of City Hall to have more space for people.

“My favorite part of the event was seeing all the Altars that were created by families and schools,” expressed Garcia. “There were truly elaborate altars both large and small. When people come together to create them there is a lot of family conversations and a sense of unity. Conversations regarding their loved ones about what they liked and enjoyed in life.”

The Dia de los Muertos celebration was a success in the City of Riverbank and organizers plan to continue the event on an annual basis.

“In talking with one of the first-grade teachers from California Avenue, she said that she had her students create mini-altars in memory of their loved ones,” remarked Garcia. “Some of the students never even met the person they created the altar for but they learned so much about that person and about the culture in creating the altar. This event is truly a celebration of life after death.”

It is said that traditions connected with the holiday include honoring the deceased using calaveras and aztec marigold flowers known as cempazúchitl, building home altars called ofrendas with the favorite foods and beverages of the departed, and visiting graves with these items as gifts for the deceased.

The celebration is not solely focused on the dead, as it is also common to give gifts to friends such as candy sugar skulls, to share traditional bread of the dead, pan de muerto, with family and friends, and to write light-hearted and often irreverent verses in the form of mock epitaphs dedicated to living friends and acquaintances.

Although traditionally a three-day event, here in Riverbank it was held on Friday, Oct. 29, ahead of the Halloween observance on Sunday.

In addition to the traditional altar displays, several vendors were on hand to sell Mexican foods.

Also, Riverbank’s Ballet Folklorico troupe performed, just ahead of the costume and makeup parade and competition, just after sunset.

The event was scheduled to run from 5 to 8 p.m. at the park.


News Reporter Virginia Still contributed to this story.

Dia Costumes
Participants in last Friday’s Día de los Muertos celebration previewed their costumes and makeup early in the evening, prior to sunset. Later, they participated in a parade through the Plaza del Rio Park in downtown Riverbank, where a winner was determined. Ric McGinnis/The News