As autumn leaves begin to fall and a crisp breeze fills the air, an ancient tradition comes alive in the heartland of America. Originating from Mexico, the Day of the Dead or Día de los Muertos is a celebration that intertwines life and death in a vibrant tapestry of color, music, food, and community. Celebrating the Day of the Dead in Kansas City is far from being a mournful occasion, and it’s an exciting event worth traveling for to experience.
Disclosure: I attended this event during a media tour exploring multicultural traditions around Kansas City, Kansas.
While the Day of the Dead is rooted in Latin American culture, its rich symbolism and profound message have found resonance across the globe. In the United States, various cities have embraced and incorporated the tradition, each contributing its distinctive touch to the event. Among these cities, Kansas City, Kan., stands out, where the Day of the Dead is celebrated with an incredible fusion of tradition and local culture.
In this blog post, I’ll share my experience at Kansas City’s Day of the Dead festivities, which were held along Central Avenue in KCK. I got to peek at the the elaborate preparations leading up to the event, and attend the fun parade. Whether you’re familiar with the Day of the Dead or just hearing about it for the first time, let’s delve into this remarkable celebration that unites life, death, and love in a grand Kansas City-style festival.
Festivities celebrating Day of the Dead (Día de Muertos) On Central Avenue in Kansas City, Kansas, will be on Nov. 4, 2023.
History of Day of the Dead in Kansas City
Kansas City, like many urban centers in the United States, is a melting pot of diverse cultures and communities, each contributing its unique colors to the city’s vibrant tapestry. One such community that has significantly shaped the cultural landscape of Kansas City is the Latino community.
One of the ways the Latino community has enriched Kansas City’s cultural heritage is through the introduction and celebration of the Day of the Dead. The tradition began modestly within the local Latino community in the late 20th century, mainly within homes and neighborhoods, where families would create altars or ofrendas dedicated to their departed loved ones. As these deeply personal tributes became more visible, they sparked curiosity and interest among the broader Kansas City populace.
Over the years, the celebration has evolved and expanded, drawing thousands of participants and spectators from all walks of life. It has become an integral part of Kansas City’s cultural calendar, a testament to the successful blending of cultures in the city. Today, Kansas City’s Day of the Dead festivities are not just a Latino tradition, but a Kansas City tradition.
Note: As colorful and festive as the event is, it’s important to point out that Day of the Dead is not “Mexico’s Halloween,” or anything like that.
Don’t miss the Day of the Dead Parade
One of the standout events of the Day of the Dead festivities in Kansas City is the grand parade. I attended with fellow travel writers in 2022, and was mesmerized by the colorful procession. The crowd lining Central Avenue in Kansas City ran the gamut of all ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds. I can’t wait to go back!
Walking around before the parade starts, you’ll come across live musical performances scattered in the route. One singer belted out ballads, another band played rock. They all created a lively atmosphere.
Near the parade route in grassy areas, you’ll also find traditional altars or ofrendas. These altars typically feature heartfelt tributes filled with photos, favorite foods, marigold flowers, candles, and personal mementos of departed loved ones. They’re poignant reminders of the holiday’s purpose: To remember and celebrate the lives of the departed.
And one of my favorite things about any community festival, there were food vendors. If you’d like to try more traditional foods, look for booths selling “pan de muerto” (bread of the dead), a sweet bread often shaped like bones or teardrops, or “calaveras de azucar” (sugar skulls). In my opinion, the pan de muerto look sweeter than they are.
It was a crisp and cool fall day, so I opted for warmer food like elote (tasty, seasoned corn) and churros. The men selling the churros the night I was there were super entertaining. It seemed everyone was helping contribute to the festive atmosphere.
A highlight of the whole event was the parade of Catrinas. Catrina is a symbolic figure in Mexican culture (and yes, she’s a skeleton). She may date back to the goddess of death worshipped by Aztecs. The figure recognized today — a tall woman with a fancy hat — originated in the 1900s by the political cartoonist José Guadalupe Posada.
Anyway, she represents the choice to honor and celebrate the lives of those who died instead of focusing on the fact that they are gone. The Catrina costumes are elaborate and gorgeous. I loved seeing the variety of Catrinas gracefully walking along the parade route.
I learned that the Day of the Dead parade in Kansas City was more than just a procession; it’s a moving celebration of life, death, and the enduring power of tradition. And it revealed the unity and strength of the community.
If you’ve never experienced the Day of the Dead, there are few places better in the Midwest to do so than Kansas City. The city’s celebrations offer a profound and joyous way to engage with the holiday, whether you’re part of the Latino community or simply a curious observer.
So, this coming autumn, consider a trip to Kansas City. Join in the parades, sample the traditional foods, admire the beautiful ofrendas, and take part in a celebration that honors both life and death. You’ll find that it’s not just a holiday, but a truly human experience that resonates in the heart long after the festivities have ended.
Resources for Day of the Dead Kansas City
Day of the Dead will be celebrated in Kansas City, Kansas, on Nov. 4, 2023. Get the schedule for the 2023 Day of the Dead celebrations here.
The parade will last until 9 p.m., so I highly recommend staying overnight if you’re traveling from out of town.