Oct 23rd, 2023

Everything You Need to Know About Dia de los Muertos at the Garden

Every year we celebrate all that fall has to offer at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden with HarvestFest. HarvestFest brings food trucks, activities, and incredible performances from local artists to the Garden for the enjoyment of the community. This year’s HarvestFest will be on October 28th and will be Dia de los Muertos themed. “It is one of my favorite holidays because I grew up in Mexico,” says Lewis Ginter’s Exhibits and Programming Coordinator, Michelle Israel, who is organizing the Garden’s festivities. “This holiday is different from others because it’s about celebrating and remembering your loved ones and it also brings you back to your roots.”

Here’s everything you need to know about Dia de los Muertos and this year’s Harvestfest celebration at the Garden.

Altar dog with skeleton

The ofrenda in Flagler Garden. photo by Beth Monroe


Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, is a holiday celebrated by people of Mexican heritage to honor those who have passed away. “Like any party, it’s [celebrated with] food, music, and a special dish,” says Michelle. “People set up an altar, or ofrenda, which is a table where you put a picture of the loved one, flowers, colorful and lively decorations, sugar skulls, and the person’s favorite food or drink.”

An altar doesn’t have to just be for friends and family. People may also make an altar for a deceased pet, artist, or celebrity they loved. The belief is that leaving your loved ones’ favorite foods on the altar will entice them to come back for a visit and enjoy their worldly pleasures again. A special sweet bread called pan de muertos, or “bread of the dead” is also made for family and the ofrenda. 

Some people also go to the cemetery and leave flowers, food, and play music. There is no one right way to celebrate Dia de los Muertos and many choose to celebrate with the traditions they grew up with. 

Altar in Flagler Garden

Harvestfest visitors are invited to bring photos of loved ones and pets who have passed away to place on the Garden’s Dia de los Muertos altar. photo by Beth Monroe


One common misconception is that Dia de los Muertos is a sort of Mexican Halloween because of it falls at the same of year and also has a theme of death. In fact, it’s believed the origins of Dia de los Muertos go back thousands of years to ancient Mesoamerica. When the Spanish conquered the Mexican Aztecs in the 1500s, they brought Catholicism with them, but found it difficult to connect with the Aztecs. Their solution was to combine the Christian holidays of All Saints Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls Day (Nov. 2) with the indigenous traditions that commemorated the dead. “The Spanish thought, ‘Maybe we can assign a day for this holiday so that we can communicate better,” says Michelle.

photo by Giovanny Hernandez Rodriguez


To honor Dia de los Muertos, the Garden will be decorated with flowers that symbolize the holiday, a big altar, and papel picado or “punched paper”.

Guests can expect live performances from the Latin Ballet of Virginia and the Kadencia Orchestra, as well as Hispanic hits played by DJ Ray. At the Bloemendaal House tent in Grace Arents Garden, guests will find Latin cuisine from E-Loteria, Latin Quarter RVA, and My Empanada. A taco bar, Mexican and local beers, and agua frescas will also be available at the Bloemendaal House tent. 

Activities will include a craft market sponsored by the Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, pumpkin carving in Grace Arents Garden with artist Dana Dumont, and live-painting by artist Alfonso Perez Acosta around the Garden (learn more about Alfonso and his work). Guests are also encouraged to bring a photo of loved ones, pets, or celebrities they would like to honor at the Garden’s ofrenda in the Flagler Pavillion


Our youngest visitors are invited to create papel picado flower banners from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m in the Children’s Garden. They will also have the opportunity to paint pumpkins from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and get their face painted from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Bilingual Storytime at the Lora M. Robins Library at 10 a.m. will be fun and fascinating for the whole family. 

About Izzy Diaz

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