This time of year there is a celebration of the dead that’s sacred rather than spooky. That’s not to say those celebrated for Dia de los Muertos are not embraced with a little humor and love. Kern County is lucky to have a number of celebrations spread out this weekend.

Not to be confused with Halloween, although many dress as skeletons at celebrations for both, Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a long-held Mexican tradition in which people pay tribute to deceased loved ones by gathering with family and friends. These celebrations also include ofrendas, also called altares (altars), built with items — food, drinks, photos, mementos, etc. — that lovingly commemorate the honoree.

The Day of the Dead is usually recognized across a number of days (Oct. 31 to Nov. 2) and, most importantly, is a time of celebration not mourning. The following events in Kern County are certainly planning to make quite the day or evening of the holiday.

FRIDAY

Kicking off a weekend of celebrations is the fourth annual gathering in downtown Wasco.

The celebration started in 2016 when the Wasco Downtown Business Association was working on drawing attention to business owners downtown.

"We started with hosting Sidewalk Sales for the owners and it gradually evolved to bigger community events that were held in downtown," Tania Cordova, president of the Wasco Downtown Business Association, wrote in an email. "We talked about which holiday we could host an event along with and noticed the Dia de los Muertos wasn't really celebrated here in Wasco and felt the need to liven that holiday being that most of Wasco's population is of Hispanic origin."

Four years later, the event has continued to grow, Cordova said, with residents of Wasco and outer cities all coming together to join the Hispanic community in celebrating all of our loved ones.

Attendees can still reserve a space for an ofrenda for which there is no charge. 

"We welcome everyone to put up altars honoring their loved ones," Cordova said. "We even give a prize to the best judged ofrenda."

Ofrendas are judged on the arch, base, photos of loved ones, water elements, candle display, flowers, fruit, bread and food that is displayed.

Children can decorate sugar skulls as well as other activities in the kids corner. There will also be face painting.

Friday's event also includes an exhibition by artist Leo Alvarez, whom Cordova said is versatile in his craft. Mento Buru will headline the evening, which will also feature performances by Ballet Folklorico Huaztecalli and other dance groups.

There will be at least five food and beverage vendors to keep guests satiated. 

Attendance topped 1,000 last year and organizers expect a few more this year. Cordova said everyone is welcome to the free celebration.

"Not only is this something fun and encouraging for our town but it also helps support local businesses and the community, by having one day we all come together and celebrate life through death."

Fourth annual Dia de Los Muertos Festival: 6 p.m. Friday, downtown Wasco. Free. 446-5060.

SATURDAY

The Dia de Los Muertos Expo has the distinction of being the longest-running local celebration, with 27 years under its belt, thanks in part to organizer Cruz Ramos.

From its start in Lamont at St. Augustine Church where Ramos was the folkloric dance director, the event has been held in a number of local venues, including Maestri Gallery, Nile Theater, Montgomery World mall, community halls, Los Amigos Market and Paradise Palace.

Last year, the event moved to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe Co-Patroness of the Unborn, a church on East Brundage Lane.

The event returns to the northeast, opening at 11 a.m., with the showcase concert running from 12:30 until 5 p.m. Performers will include Familia Patino, Los Esqueletos Folklorico Dancers, Aguilas de Mount Vernon Elementary, Azteca, Grupo Folklorico San Agustin, Escuelas Unidas de Bakersfield and Ballet Mi Tierra.

As per tradition, there will be altars, for which people must register by Friday (call 401-4141).

Children can take part in arts and crafts, and artists will be on hand to apply skeletal makeup for attendees.

Ramos said there will be "600 pounds of food" for sale courtesy of vendors and church volunteers. The menu includes tamales, tacos, enchiladas, porridges, tortas, gorditas, pupusas, pan de muerto, desserts, champurrados and beverages as well as American fare. (Vendors being accepted until Friday for a $40 fee; call 345-5842.)

Lasy year's expo drew about 1,000 attendees throughout the day and Ramos is optimistic about doubling that number this year.

Funds raised from the event will aid in building the mausoleum, where remains of miscarried babies can be entombed, which broke ground Sept. 30. Other construction plans include a sanctuary church building and eventually a school and convent.

The church serves 15,000 families in northeast Bakersfield, Ramos said.

"... We worship in a pavilion where we 'freeze' in winter; sometimes when it's real rainy, the church set up a massive huge white tent adjoined to the main entrance of the pavilion," Ramos wrote in an email. "I remember when we used to attend Mass in the dirt field in summers back and we'd take our own umbrellas."

Ramos said she is looking forward to seeing everyone on Saturday to celebrate.

"We all help each other welcome the memories of our dearly departed and pachanga for them!"

Also on Saturday, Hillcrest Memorial Park and Mortuary will host a special remembrance service and event. All are invited to the free event that will feature space for people to set up altar displays along with crafts and live music. During the evening, guests will also be able to purchase food and drinks.

Dia de los Muertos Expo: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, grounds of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe Co-Patroness of the Unborn, 4600 E. Brundage Lane. cruzn8r@yahoo.com.

Dia de los Muertos Special Remembrance Service and Event: 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday, Hillcrest Memorial Park and Mortuary, 9101 Kern Canyon Road. Free. 366-5766. hillcrestmemorial.com.

SUNDAY

The Kern County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce returns to the Kern County Museum's Pioneer Village for its 11th annual Dia de los Muertos celebration on Sunday. Jay Tamsi, chamber president/CEO, said the dance floor and stage space have increased as well as the number of altares, now up to 70, allowing people to honor their loved ones.

"We are excited to have the community take pride in their culture and share their stories of their loved ones through their beautiful altares," Tamsi wrote in an email.

There will also be more food and beverage options, with 15 selling food, six for beverages plus a Jarritos soda tasting booth.

Along with a 1,000 sugar skulls for children to decorate, the kids area will feature more coloring and craft activities, all free of charge thanks to sponsor Dignity Health — Mercy and Memorial Hospitals.

Aztec dance group Ameyaltzin Yolihuaui Danzante Azteca has also been added to take part in the processional blessing that opens the event. Other entertainment during the day includes Velorio, Mi Tierra, Mariachi San Marcos de Bakersfield, Ballet Folklorico Huaztecalli and La Catrina Divina.

For those dressing up in traditional Dia looks, there will be a El Catrin and La Catrina costume contest.

More than 7,000 people attended last year's event and Tamsi said they expect even more this year.

“It’s really the most colorful, captivating, and familial event around,” Tamsi said in a news release. “People are just happy everywhere for they are there not to celebrate themselves but to celebrate their loved ones who they will never forget.”

11th annual Dia de los Muertos: 1 to 7 p.m. Sunday, Kern County Museum, Pioneer Village, 3801 Chester Ave. $6 in advance or $25 family pack of five at kchcc.org; $8 at the door, free for children 5 and under. 633-5495.

Stefani Dias can be reached at 661-395-7488. Follow her on Twitter: @realstefanidias.

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