Thousands Turn Out for Day of the Dead 2015 Celebration in Fort Lauderdale

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Last night's Florida Day of the Dead Celebration unleashed downtown Fort Lauderdale's wacky side. And do I mean wacky.  

Case in point: At quarter till 9 p.m. on the dance floor at America's Backyard, a six-piece brass band was playing Louis Armstrong's "When the Saints Go Marching In" while a man clad as Donald Trump locked arms with a lady adorned in sugar skull facepaint — a traditional makeup look that commemorates the Day of the Dead. Next to them twirled a bald man wearing a red Hare Krishna get-up. A crew of more folks sporting skeletal gear danced while onlookers snapped away on their smartphones.

Nearly 14,000 people flocked to Himmarshee last night to flaunt costumes again just two days after Halloween. The scene was like a bizarre movie. For a few moments, the weirdness on the dance floor made me forget where I was and why I was there. It felt magical. 

Now in its sixth year, the Florida Day of the Dead Celebration continues to evolve and entertain local revelers, families, and their pets. This local take on Dia de los Meurtos, a traditional Mexican holiday for remembering the dead, is one of Fort Lauderdale's most popular festivals. In Mexico, it is believed that on November 2, folks can reconnect with their lost loved ones through dancing and singing. Observers also make ofrendas — offerings, like small shrines or gifts — for their departed loved ones. 

Spearheaded by the Puppet Network and head honcho puppeteer Jim Hammond, the fiesta kicked off in the early evening with mask-making and puppet-making fun at Huizenga Plaza. There, sugar skull face-painting experts were on hand ready to whip up their creations. Later in the evening, city officials and the Consulate General of Mexico led a massive processional toward the Folklorico Stage, just outside of Revolution Live and America's Backyard. The parade featured more than 40 puppets, one that was 22 feet tall.

Spotted in the crowd were a skeletal bride and groom holding a Chihuahua wearing a tutu.  A man who gave his name only as Justin, from Wilton Manors, pulled along a realistic-looking dog skeleton on makeshift roller skates. "I love my dog, and I take him out for a walk every day," he said.

Quirkiness aside, the evening featured musical acts, mariachi bands, and dancers on the stage at the Meurtos Street Festival. Inside Revolution Live, a craft fair filled the room with funky and fun artisanal holiday-themed wares. Two blocks west of the main action, an authentic ofrendas exhibition inside the historical New River Inn offered a nice break from the madness outside.

As the celebration wound up around 10 p.m., Hammond told New Times that his favorite moment was seeing how locals spent hours making puppets and costumes to attend the one-night event — on a Monday, mind you. "I'm floored by the community," Hammond said.

See more photos from last night in our slideshow here. 

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