Finally, fall is here and we can revel in the cool weather, the yumminess of fall harvests, and the beginning of festivities that bring us closer to friends and family. That is exactly what visitors big and small will be celebrating for free this Sunday at The Walters’ Día de Los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) Festival.

El Dia de Los Muertos is a tradition originating from central Mexico and rooted in indigenous and colonial practices. It is the largest cultural festival in Mexico and centers around one thing – welcoming back home the spirits of those that have died. The celebration is usually a series of days to honor and celebrate FAMILIA (Family) that has passed away with a focus on joy instead of mourning.

In its 10th year, this full-out family celebration welcomes people from all corners of Baltimore to learn about this ancient Mexican custom. Makers can get busy with traditional crafts of different cultures from across Mexico. Art historians of all sizes can enjoy Spanish and English tours of the exhibit Transformation: Art of the Americas featuring about 20 works from indigenous American cultures. Everyone can join in on the fun as musicians and dancers from two local Mexican folk dance troupes, Bailes de Mi Tierra and Danza Guadalupana de Maryland, belt out their love and respect for their ancestors as they return for one day to the land of the living.

“Our primary object as a museum in Baltimore is to represent, reflect, and bring together our community and that includes all races, all nationalities, all groups,” Amanda Kodeck, Ruth R. Marder Director of Education and Public Programming.“Our collection includes historical objects from the Americas and we consider that to be part of the community and that is what we want to celebrate. We are a place where adults, children, and families come and learn together.”

Central to this celebration is an altar made up of fresh marigolds, lit candles, foods special to those that crossed to the other side, sugar skulls, and pieces of tissue paper. The scent of the marigolds is supposed to draw the spirits, the sugar skulls are decorated to suit the personality of the loved ones, the paper represents how easily things come and go, candles light their way back home and the food and spirits, well — it is a homecoming party.

You can join in on this powerful tradition. The Walters commissioned local Chicano artists Edgar Reyes, whose work was featured at Light City, to create a community altar. Baltimoreans can bring a picture of their loved one to remember and honor their life. The altar opened on October 17 and will close on November 4th. You can also email a dedication to publicprograms@thewalters.org with “Día de los Muertos” in the subject line.

“The altar is a hybrid itself. It represents a deeply important blending of indigenous and colonial Spanish cultures,” explains Reyes. “It is in recognition of all the good and bad that exists in one life and how we all seek and find refuge within our families. The altar shows respect for a beautiful tradition and history of a people who have carved out many life paths and the enormous possibilities those paths created.”

The festival is from 11-4 on Sunday, October 28. Dance performances will be at 12 and 3pm.

This article is written in memory of my abuelita (grandmother) Carmen Sofia Duque Tarazona.