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Day of the Dead Altar at Mingei International Museum in Balboa Park

Created: 06 November, 2009
Updated: 26 July, 2022
2 min read

 In honor of Mexico’s Day of the Dead Mingei International is exhibiting a Day of the Dead altar in the Museum. This colorful, traditional offering to the dead is a collaboration between the Museum, the Mexican Consulate in San Diego and the University of Tijuana. It will be on view through November 29 in the upper gallery. This year’s altar is dedicated to the memory of Octavio Paz, winner of the Nobel Prize for literature. Two recently deceased, longtime Museum friends — folklorist Sam Hinton, a member of the Museum’s original board of directors who gave a holiday concert at the Museum every year for more than 25 years, and potter Otto Heino, whose work is in the Museum’s collection and has been regularly on exhibition there — are also remembered.

 In Mexico the first and second of November belong to the dead. These days are at once patriotic, festive, personal and sacred — official holidays that are also holy days in which celebrants seek their reflection in the black mirror of Tezcatlipoca, the Aztec god of the night sky, to discover the vanity of earthly effort. Since everything is temporary, the celebrants sing and dance with the departed who have attained perfection and wisdom.

 The offerings on the Day of the Dead are possibly the most important ritual of the year. An altar is placed in the best place in the house to honor and welcome the spirits of deceased relatives. An image or images of the deceased are placed at the center. Corn, the sacred plant that assures the continuation of life, is then placed on the altar. Large votive candles in glass jars with religious imagery serve as beacons to guide each soul to its respective altar. It is said that foods lose their flavor and aroma because the souls take their essence. To assure that the departed arrive in the right place, marigold petals show the departed, visiting from Heaven, the entrance to their old homes.

 Located at 1439 El Prado in Balboa Park, Mingei International Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 am–4 pm, and closed on Mondays and national holidays. Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for seniors and $4 for students and active military with ID. For information, call 619-239-0003 or visit

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