“Día de los Muertos”- Day of the Dead celebrations around Iowa

Photo by Tar Macias / Hola Iowa

What is the Day of the Dead? 

From midnight on October 31 through November 2, this celebration of souls highlights the strength of family, the honoring of ancestors, and the continuance of life. The Day of the Dead is celebrated with great joy as the living reconnect with loved ones lost through death. It is an expression of the belief that death is not the end of life but rather the continuation of life in the afterworld. During the holiday, the spirits of the deceased are invited back to enjoy the comforts of their earthly life. Festivities surrounding the Day of the Dead vary from solemn religious celebrations to events with exuberant party atmospheres – each family and community has different and unique customs.

Where did it come from?

The dead have been celebrated in the area that is now Mexico for hundreds of years, dating back to Aztec mythology and the goddess of death, Mictēcacihuātl. In 1519, Spanish Conquistador Hernan Cortes invaded what is now Mexico, bringing with him the Catholic religion and the rule of the King of Castile during the first wave of Spanish colonization in the Americas. The beliefs and traditions of the colonizing Spanish and the conquered Aztecs, Mayans, and indigenous peoples collided and merged over time. The cultures were deeply religious, and as conversion to Catholicism progressed, the many gods from the polytheistic native religions became associated with Catholic Saints, while festivals and holidays blended with feast days from each culture.

The Day of the Dead is an example of cultural blending. The Catholic holidays of remembrance – All Souls Day and All Saints Day fell around the same time as traditional harvest celebrations and feasts honoring the god and goddess of death. The belief in an afterlife was shared by both cultures and endured. The Day of the Dead is a national holiday in Mexico and is celebrated in many countries with growing popularity in the United States. Today, this union of deep beliefs from many world cultures has resulted in the modern holiday to honor the dead. Many people celebrate the day regardless of their nationality or religious background. Every generation that celebrates adds its own layer to the cultural collaboration. Each region, city, parish, village, and family has its own traditions, which enables the festivities to be richly layered.

Here is a list of some of the celebrations for the Day of the Dead holiday throughout Iowa and the Quad Cities. 

Day of the Dead: Remember, Honor, Celebrate Exhibition
September 16 through December 3, 2023
Figge Art Museum
225 West Second Street, Davenport, IA.

This year, the Figge Art Museum invites all art enthusiasts and cultural explorers to immerse themselves in the vibrant world of Día de los Muertos through the Figge’s exhibition: Day of the Dead: Remember, Honor, Celebrate.

The exhibition delves into what makes Day of the Dead so special and how the holiday has taken on more meaning and proportions in the United States and beyond. Learn about how we as humans celebrate and remember the lives of our lost loved ones through the collective traditions, artmaking and story-telling that are integral parts of Día de los Muertos.

Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence 3rd Annual Día de los Muertos Tribute
Saturday, October 14, 2023, from 1-4 pm 
at Union Park, 725 Thompson Ave. Des Moines, IA.

In recognition of #domesticviolenceawarenessmonth, we will be hosting the 3rd Annual Día de los Muertos Tribute hosted by ICADV on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023, from 1-4 p.m. at Union Park in Des Moines.

This year’s Tribute will include children’s activities, including face painting and a bounce house, live performances and music, food and drinks, a Community Resources Fair, and so much more! There is no cost to attend!

We hope you can join us in remembering the names, faces, and stories of individuals who have lost their lives due to gender-based violence. You are welcome to bring a photograph of a loved one to place on the Ofrenda(altar) that will be on display during the Tribute.

Questions? Please contact Bleu Valladares (she/they) at [email protected] or 515-244-8028.

Kid’s Saturdays – Celebrate Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)
Saturday, October 14, 2023, 10 – 11 am
Sioux City Public Museum
607 4th St Sioux City, IA

Presented in conjunction with Fall Fest, this bilingual children’s program features the book, “Little Monster, What Pan Dulce Do You Want,” a Loteria game and crafts for children accompanied by their grownup(s). Geared to families with young children. Craft quantities are limited. No pre-registration necessary. FREE


Make Papel Picado
Saturday, October 14, 2023, 11 am – 5 pm
Sioux City Public Museum
607 4th St Sioux City, IA

Create a papel picado skull out of tissue paper for the Museum’s upcoming Día de los Muertos altar exhibition (to be displayed from October 24 to November 4). FREE

More family activities at the Sioux City Museum:
October 24 to November 4, Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) Altar Display
Thursday, October 26,  6 – 8 pm · Fashion Show/Estrellas de Jalisco
 Sunday, October 29 
 1 – 4 pm · Day of the Dead Celebration

Day of the Dead Family Fiesta
Sunday, October 15, 12-3 pm
Figge Art Museum
225 West Second Street, Davenport, IA.

FREE Event with FREE museum admission all day

In partnership with LULAC Council 10, Ascentra Credit Union and Hola America

Join us as we celebrate Día de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, at the Figge Art Museum and honor the memories of our loved ones through music, dance, food, and community.

A full schedule of events for the fiesta can be found at www.figgeartmuseum.org.


Artist Workshops for Kids – Día de los Muertos
October 28, 2023, 1:30 pm – 2:30 pm
Muscatine Art Center
1314 Mulberry Ave, Muscatine, IA

Artist Workshops for Kids – Día de los Muertos – October 28

Join Miss Julie to learn about Día de los Muertos (or Día de Muertos), the multi-day Mexican holiday celebrated around the world, where families gather to remember their loved ones. We will celebrate by creating a cursive esqueleto (skeleton). This free class is open to kids ages 7 to 14 and their families. Please register by October 27 by calling the Muscatine Art Center at 563-263-8282.

Day of the Dead – United by Sports
Sunday, October 29, 2023, 11 am – 3 pm
Des Moines Art Center
4700 Grand Avenue, Des Moines, IA 

Join us for the Des Moines Art Center’s 2023 Day of the Dead celebration, Unidos Por Deportes (United by Sports), which pays homage to the integral role that organized sports play in Mexican communities throughout Iowa. This festive, free, family event features hands-on art activities, traditional food, music, sports demonstrations, and an ofrenda showcasing the achievements and contributions of local Latinx athletes.

From baseball and basketball to boxing and soccer, organized sports foster pride and resilience in our vibrant community. Join us to experience a unique fusion of culture and athletics, honoring the past, embracing the present, and celebrating the unity that will help us move into the future.

Food and drink available from Tangerine at the Art Center, Tamales Industry, Tullpa Restaurant, Monarca Paletas, and Zanzibar’s Coffee Adventure

Take advantage of easy parking and a free shuttle from Merrill Middle School, running continuously from 11 am to 3 pm

Mercado on Fifth: Día de Los Muertos Parade
Saturday, October 28,2023 in Moline, IL
12 pm: Pre-Party at Mercado!
2 pm: Parade start time
3:30 pm: After Party until 8 pm

The “Group O” Día de los Muertos Parade will start at 2 pm on Saturday, October 28th, in front of the Vibrant Arena and ending just off 19th St. and River Drive in Moline. There will be an after-party on the Mercado grounds immediately following the parade. The after-party headliner will be Banda Caliente starting at 6 pm!

We are accepting applications for Parade entries:

Día de los Muertos Parade Float Competition!

Along with your Parade entry, you will be entered into our judging competition!

Float prizes will be awarded for 1st Place $750; 2nd Place $500; and 3rd Place $250.


For more information follow Mercado on Fifth on Facebook

Exhibición de Día de Muertos / Day of the Dead Exhibit
October 27-November 3
Central Library
1000 Grand Avenue, Des Moines, IA 50309

Come to the Central Library to see a Day of the Dead ofrenda built by Latinx Immigrants of Iowa in partnership with the Des Moines Public Library.  The exhibit includes flowers created by Library visitors throughout October in memory of loved ones who have been lost.

Celebración del Día de Muertos / Day of the Dead Celebration
Thursday, November 2, 2023
Central Library
1000 Grand Avenue, Des Moines, IA

We invite you to visit us at the Central Library downtown to celebrate the Day of the Dead. Come and appreciate the altar made by Latinx Immigrants of Iowa, in partnership with the Des Moines Public Library.

We invite all attendees to dress in the style of a Catrinas. We will offer face painting at the event! Participate in our Catrina costume contest for a chance to win a prize. To participate, you must be present at 7:00 p.m.

Enjoy delicious tamales, pan de muerto, and a cup of champurrado.

This event, suitable for all ages, is held in partnership with Latinx Immigrants of Iowa, with collaboration of Knock and Drop Iowa, and the participation of Al Éxito and Mi Salud Iowa. Free event parking will be available in the parking lot on Grand Avenue, across the street from the Library at 508 10th Street–look for signs.

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