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London’s Day of the Dead 2021

London day of the dead

“The Mexican is …. familiar with death. [He] jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it. It is one of his favourite toys and his most steadfast love.”

The Day of the Dead, is despite its name, a joyful celebration honouring the passing of loved ones. On this day it is believed that the spirits of the ancestors return. They are honoured and remembered by their families and friends on Earth. Flowers are an intrinsic part of the festival. Yellow flowers, such as marigolds, are used to decorate homes so the spirits can find their way home. Flowers, also,  symbolise the transience of life.

Columbia Road Shops will be celebrating London’s Day of the Dead Festival on 30th October 2021 from 12pm onwards.

The street is a stage and we invite you to join us & to come other than you are.

Columbia Road is famous for its flower market and flowers are an intrinsic part of this annual celebration. Flowers such as marigolds decorate the outside of houses and help the dead find their way back to the land of the living. They also represent the transience of life.  In collaboration with local florists, Columbia Road shops will be decorated with flowers. Shopkeepers will be dressed in suitable attire. Expect a beauty parlour, Mariachi, a procession, a skeleton bride and groom… and more to be confirmed

The festival is based upon the Pre-Columbian cycle of life and death and the Christian Festival of All Hallows’ Eve is still celebrated in many parts of Europe. It was the syncretism of two distinct belief systems, Christianity and Pre-Columbian religions five hundred years ago that has led to this unique celebration.  The Pre-Columbian Festival is over 3000 years old.


All Hallows’ Eve was celebrated also in Britain in the 8th Century. Its origins were in the Celtic festival Sainheim. This festival marked the end of the harvest season in Ireland, the Isle of Man, Scotland, Wales and Cornwall. Cattle were brought down from the summer grazing fields and the livestock were slaughtered for Winter. Bonfires were lit and the fires were considered to be cleansing. The festival took place at Liminal Time. At this time of year, it was believed that the boundary between our world and the other world was more porous allowing the ancestors to move easily between the two. Feasts were had and the souls of kin were beckoned to attend. A place at the table was set and favourite food was served.  Costumes were worn and were a way of imitating and disguising those that wore them who were often heard to recite poetry and verse.


Expect a procession, a beauty parlor and a mariachi band, a skeleton bride and groom and a procession on Saturday 30th November 2021.


Many cultures and countries celebrate and honor their departed ancestors. In China, there is a whole month in which the ancestors are left burnt food. It is called The Hungry Ghost Festival. In India they celebrate seven generations with a bath in sacred water and then a feast.  In Cambodia, it is one of the most important festivals of the year. People pray and make offerings and in the morning and in the afternoon buffalo races are held.


The Day of the Dead festival, which featured in the opening sequence of the James Bond film ‘Spectre’, was extremely popular in 2009 and 2015 at the British Museum. This time, holding the festival on a street as opposed inside a Museum will allow for a more inclusive celebration of this popular festival. It is a celebration and culture that has a distinct appeal to the imagination.


It is fitting then, that Columbia Road, which has hosted the world famous Flower Market for the last 100 years ago, be the site for this outdoor festival.  Here on Sunday the street is transformed into an oasis of foliage and flowers. Everything from bedding plants to 10 ft banana trees are up for grabs. The air is intense with the scent of flowers and the chant of the barrow boys “Everthin’ a fiver”?


We are one of the few streets in the country composed wholly of sixty independent shops. Here small art galleries sit next to cupcake shops, vintage clothes stores, English and Italian delis, garden and antique shops. There is also a wealth of great pubs, cafes and restaurants. The shops have a common thread, a love of the flower market and its history.

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