At the same time that children and college students across the country are donning costumes and gorging on candy, Mexican communities across the United States and in Mexico are observing Día de los Muertos, a holiday that occurs from October 31 to November 2. Día de los Muertos was originally an Aztec tradition that took place at the beginning of summer in pre-Columbian Central America, but it has since shifted to its current date to coincide with the Catholic tradition of All Saints’ Day, the same feast day in which Halloween has its roots.
This past weekend, on October 29, the National Museum of Mexican Art located in Harrison Park in Pilsen, a largely Mexican neighborhood on Chicago’s near southwest side, hosted a Day of the Dead Xicágo celebration to kick off the Día de los Muertos festivities. The park outside the museum was filled with ofrendas: altars filled with photographs, foods, and colorful decorations dedicated to loved ones who have died. Especially present among the ofrendas were images of children who passed away, complete with their favorite toys and images of beloved characters. The spirit of the day did not feel tragic, even though children’s deaths featured prominently. Instead, there were lively performances by local groups and free pan de muerto covered with pink and purple sugar.
Harrison Park was bursting with people and music. The line to enter the National Museum of Mexican Art stretched around the block as people clamored to see the exhibit of traditional and artistically interpreted ofrendas inside. Local businesses had tents with food and drinks, and every hour a different music group performed on the main stage. Volunteers painted children’s faces and ran a crafts table for families. This year’s Día de los Muertos was a beautiful celebration of loved ones who have passed, and the members of the Chicago Mexican community in Pilsen came together with color and joy.