Day of the Dead Festival

The 17th annual festival that mourns death and celebrates life, Sponsored by Living Arts of Tulsa.

By: Deanna Rebro | Category: Recreation/Leisure | Issue: October 2009

Libby Auld, event chair, shows a framed poster for the Day of the Dead Festival.

At first glance, it’s a bit like Memorial Day meets Mardi Gras. The Day of the Dead Festival is a highly emotional event in which sadness and joy come together.

Sunday, November 1 marks the 17th annual festival that mourns death and celebrates life. Sponsored by Living Arts of Tulsa at their new headquarters at 307 E. Brady St. in Tulsa, the event will feature some 20 to 30 altars set up to honor deceased and pay homage to them in a special way. Personal mementos represent the important things in their lives. A photograph of the deceased may be flanked with flowers, candles, or a favorite shirt or candy bar. One lady who passed away was an avid gardener, and her family built an altar that included free seed packets from her garden.

The altars are built from a variety of perspectives. Some are done by professional artists. Some are sponsored by schools or organizations. Others are simply created from the heart. An open altar will be available for anyone who would like to bring a token of his or her departed loved one. The atmosphere is solemn as families and friends pray and remember what the person did in life.

Step outside and the atmosphere becomes alive with Mariachi bands, colorful costumes and salsa dancing in the street. Vendors will offer food, beverages and souvenirs to take home, including the quirky skull with a sombrero, the festival symbol that represents death and rebirth.

Music and dance celebrate life at the Day of the Dead Festival, hosted by Living Arts of Tulsa.

The Day of the Dead is a complex celebration that is sometimes difficult to comprehend. “You just have to be there,” says Libby Auld, this year’s event chair. “Once you come, you’ll be back again.” The festival gains momentum every year.

The mission of Living Arts of Tulsa is to present and develop contemporary art forms. The nonprofit organization, part of the Oklahoma Arts Council, wants to remain true to the meaning of this cultural, historic and artistic event, which the whole family can enjoy.

“The American culture views death differently,” Libby explains. The origin of celebrating the Day of the Dead goes back to the Spaniards and Aztecs. While early Spaniards viewed death as the end of life, the Aztecs, some 2,500 to 3,000 years ago, saw death as a continuation of life – it was a rite of passage. In Mexico, the thoughts were merged with the Catholic observance of All Saints Day on November 1.

The Day of the Dead is celebrated in many countries and cities in the United States, including Tempe, Flagstaff, Mesa, Tucson, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Celebrations are held as far north as Missoula, Montana. According to Libby, first-time spectators often say, “Wow, I can’t believe this is happening in Tulsa!”

When darkness falls over Brady St., pulsating drumbeats will fill the air. All eyes will be riveted on the fire dancers and other fire performers. “They’re so captivating! You can’t take your eyes off them. There’s just nothing like the drama and excitement of the fire routines,” says Libby. The long-time arts enthusiast and owner of Eloté, formerly Nelson’s Buffeteria, has been practicing with a fired hula hoop that she will use for the first time this year.

Anyone else who wants to participate in any way – build an altar, provide music, entertain or volunteer to help – may call (918) 585-1234.  

The Day of the Dead begins at 2 p.m. and ends at 11 p.m. on Sunday, November 1. The ­location is 307 E. Brady St., across from Spaghetti Warehouse. Admission is $5 for adults, and children 12 and under get in free.

For more information, contact

Living Arts of Tulsa

307 E. Brady
Tulsa, OK 74120
(918) 585-1234


About Author Deanna Rebro

Deanna Rebro has worked in the publishing industry 30+ years, including eight years writing for Value News. She has also worked in real estate for the past six years. Deanna graduated from Kent State University in Kent, Ohio with a B.A. in Journalism. Outside of work, she serves as Vice President on the Board of Directors for Pet Adoption League. “Every story I write is a learning experience,” she said.

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