Día de los Muertos came to life this year with candy skulls, craft fairs, altars honoring deceased loved ones and other events in the Santa Barbara area.

Community groups such as El Congreso – a UCSB Chicanos and Latinos organization – the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and the Santa Barbara Public Library all hosted events over the past week to celebrate the two-day holiday.

El Congreso member Arturo Burriaga said Día de los Muertos is a traditional Mexican holiday in which families set up shrines and altars devoted to deceased family members and decorate them with photos, skulls and gifts.

“It is a Mexican tradition from the colonization of America where we honor those who have come back from the dead and celebrate their rising,” Burriaga said.

To commemorate the holiday, many local groups are putting on events this week.

Due to donations from the Towbes Foundation, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art was able to host its biannual Free Family Day last Sunday in celebration of Día de los Muertos. SBMA Assistant Director of Education Patsy Hicks said that this year’s event was a notable success.

“It was a fabulous celebration,” Hicks said. “It was the largest turnout we had in 16 years with nearly 1,700 visitors, almost all family, from all different backgrounds.”

Adding to the festivities, each of 10 community groups associated with the museum – including La Cuesta Continuation High School, the Community Based English Tutoring Class of the I.V. School and Crane Country Day School – crafted their own altar, a traditional Latin American form of commemorating the dead, Hicks said.

“There are 10 altars throughout the museum from a variety of school and community groups, most of which are partners with the museum and various outreach programs,” she said.

Although the main event has ended, some altars are still on view in the lower lobby of the museum until Friday afternoon. Admission is $9 for adults and $6 for seniors and students. SBMA members and children under 6 can enter for free.

Other Día de Los Muertos events took place just yesterday, marking the official beginning of the two-day Mexican celebration. The Santa Barbara Public Library held a crafts fair yesterday afternoon, drawing children from the area to create paper flowers and skeleton masks. According to Eastside Library Supervisor Marivel Zambrano-Esparza, the event was held primarily for local children’s programs, but families of all ages were encouraged to attend.

The library hosted 32 children from two elementary school classes – one from the Franklin Children’s Center and one is a part of the art museum of Santa Barbara’s after-school program – and its patron families.

The nonprofit Latino cultural center Casa de la Raza also celebrated the day of the dead with its free Night of Culture last night from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Co-sponsored by various community organizations, the event featured a collaborative altar display, live music, refreshments and family entertainment. Youth Center director Francisco Cervantes said that he was pleased by the level of attendance and pointed to Casa’s popular second annual haunted house as the reason behind the crowd.

“For the haunted house, we had about 100 people the first night,” said Cervantes.

Burriaga said El Congreso is hosting a festival during the two days of Día de los Muertos in Children’s Park to celebrate the holiday with those students who are away from their home and traditions.

“Its purpose is to spread cultural diversity and to share with them about our culture,” he said.

This event will take place from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Children’s Park. It is free and open to the public, and will include entertainment, food and music.

Westmont College Spanish language students are also holding a public event today to commemorate the holiday.

Westmont College spokesman Scott Craig said students are displaying pyramid-shaped altars, which include photos of loved ones, objects they appreciate and their favorite foods.

The Spanish class invites Santa Barbara community members to bring photos of their loved ones to Reynolds Hall at 3 p.m. today.