Disneyland celebrates Dia de los Muertos: Tearing up at the Happiest Place on Earth
Disney California Adventure Park is celebrating Día de los Muertos with Plaza de la Familia, honoring Mexican traditions and offering immersive cultural experiences.
Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a Mexican tradition that celebrates and honors deceased loved ones. This vibrant and colorful holiday is characterized by face paintings, sugar skulls, and colorful flowers. While many may associate Dia de los Muertos with festivities and joy, a recent visit to Disney California Adventure Park's Plaza de la Familia revealed a more emotional and personal side to the celebration.
As a Southern California native who grew up visiting Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, I have always felt a sense of nostalgia and joy in these parks. However, it wasn't until the release of Disney and Pixar's film "Coco" in 2017 that I truly felt seen and represented in the characters and traditions depicted on screen.
In recent years, Disney has made efforts to embrace diversity and inclusivity in their parks. Alongside celebrations like Lunar New Year and the Festival of Holidays, Disney California Adventure Park has created Plaza de la Familia, a dedicated space to honor the Mexican traditions of Dia de los Muertos. Tucked away in Paradise Gardens, this immersive experience features vibrant marigold archways, skeleton figures, papel picado, marigolds, and sugar skulls.
Stepping into Plaza de la Familia, I was immediately captivated by the atmosphere. The Mariachi Divas, a renowned all-female mariachi group, performed the lively song "Un Poco Loco" from "Coco," transporting me into the heart of the celebration. This space serves as a bridge between those familiar and unfamiliar with Dia de los Muertos, providing opportunities to connect with the cultural significance of the holiday.
Plaza de la Familia offers a bilingual experience, with signage in both English and Spanish. It also pays homage to "Coco" through subtle nods and references. Throughout the day, visitors can enjoy "A Musical Celebration of Coco," a performance that tells the story of Miguel's journey from the Land of the Living to the Land of the Dead.
Disney California Adventure Park introduced Plaza de la Familia in 2017, just before the release of "Coco." Initially, the area did not feature characters like Miguel to avoid spoiling the film. Tracy Halas, Disney Live Entertainment Show Director, explained that the space has remained largely unchanged since 2018, as it has become a cherished tradition for many families.
One of the most poignant aspects of Plaza de la Familia is the Árbol de la Vida and Memory Wall. This special area allows guests to leave notes of remembrance for their lost loved ones. Thousands of tags with names are tied to chains surrounding the Árbol de la Vida, creating a powerful visual representation of the connections we share with strangers through grief and remembrance.
For visitors like Cynthia Garcia, Plaza de la Familia offers a deeply emotional experience. She wrote down the names of her deceased loved ones, including her father, brother, and pets. Garcia expressed that the space allows her to connect with her heritage and beliefs about the afterlife, making it a meaningful way to remember her loved ones.
Leaving Plaza de la Familia, one can't help but feel a newfound respect and honor for Mexican heritage and the traditions of Dia de los Muertos. As Halas aptly stated, you don't need to have Mexican heritage to appreciate and learn from this space. It serves as a reminder of the power of cultural celebration and the importance of remembering and honoring those who have passed.
In conclusion, Plaza de la Familia at Disney California Adventure Park offers a unique and immersive experience that celebrates the traditions of Dia de los Muertos. Through vibrant decorations, cultural performances, and opportunities for remembrance, this space creates a deeper understanding and appreciation for Mexican heritage. Whether you have a personal connection to the holiday or not, Plaza de la Familia invites visitors to embrace the spirit of Dia de los Muertos and honor the memories of lost loved ones.