Day of the Dead Traditions and Celebrations

Day of the Dead Traditions and Celebrations
Sugar skulls celebrating Dia De Los Muertos

The Day of the Dead or Dia De Los Muertos seems to be taking on a life of its' own with more celebrations every year.

The tradition of celebrating the dead has been in existence for centuries with its most likely origin occurring as part of a 14th century Aztec festival in Mexico but may date back even earlier.

The holiday, which traditionally takes place on October 31 (All Hallows' Eve); November 1 (All Saints Day) and November 2 (All Souls Day), is now celebrated worldwide with events and festivals starting in late October and continuing well into November.

Dia De Los Muertos is not as morbid as it sounds. It is actually a celebration of the life of the deceased that honors their memory with food, music, dance and parades. Symbolism plays an important role in the festivities where an ofrenda (alter) is created to honor the deceased with sugar skulls, marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed.

The offerings placed on the Dia de los Muertos alter symbolize water, wind, fire and earth. They typically consist of a wash bowl or basin for water, along with razors, soap and other items the traveling spirit can use to clean-up after the journey; papel picado (tissue paper cut-outs) to symbolize wind; candles for fire and to light the way for the spirits; and food for earth.

Traditional foods placed on the alter and eaten at the celebrations include: Pan de Merton (Bread of the Dead), mole, fruit, chocolate and atole (Mexican hot beverage with masa, cinnamon and brown sugar).

Chicago boasts one of the largest populations of Mexicans/Latinos of any city in America and more Mexicans than the city of Veracruz, Mexico. Therefore it is no surprise that there are many traditional and family celebrations throughout the city and suburbs. In addition, Chicago has a number of public events and celebrations including the following:

  • The Chicago Sinfonietta's Día de los Muerto concert provides a heady mix of music, wine and theater to celebrate the holiday.

    Classic rose mask

    Classic rose mask

    Sinfonietta audiences will have the opportunity to both hear and taste the offerings of Día de los Muertos, with the three Diseño wine tastings that accompany the program. The concert, itself, starts out on a somber note drawing from the traditionally European reaction to death and mortality, filled with drama and mournful melodies highlighted with dramatic lighting and spectacle provided by Chicago’s own spectacle-driven theater company Redmoon. The second half of the Sinfonietta’s Día de los Muertos concert shifts to the jubilant, festive celebrations of death common in Latin and Mexican culture featuring bright colors and masks. For tickets click here or call the Chicago Sinfonietta at 312 236 3681 ext. 2.  The concerts are at Wentz Concert Hall in Naperville on Saturday, November 9 at 8 p.m. and at Chicago's Symphony Center Monday, November 11 at 7:30 p.m.  Wine tastings are included in the ticket price for patrons 21+

  • You can drown your sorrows on Friday, November 1 at The Pony's Dia de Las Muertos celebration.  The Pony will offer $4 Rogue Dead Guy and $4 Jim Beam Devils Cut. Guests can sample free Devils Cut Brand from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m., and enjoy face painting throughout the celebration. 1638 W Belmont.
  • Patricio Sandoval, chef and owner of Mercadito, has added some special Dia de los Muertos items to his menu based on the holiday traditions. 108 W. Kinzie St.
  • The National Museum of Mexican Art 2013 Day of the Dead events include the Dia de Los Muertos Ball on November 2 (7 to 10 p.m.); Day of the Dead Guided Tours: now through December 15; and a free community night, Noche de muertos (Day of the Dead Night), on Friday, November 1 from 6 to 8 p.m. with art, music and hands-on activities. (1852 W. 19th Street).
  • If you want to try some traditional goodies get in line at Panaderia Nuevo Leon in Pilsen. The legendary neighborhood bakery is celebrating Dia De Los Muertos all week with pan de muerto (Bread of the Dead) and more. 1634 W 18th St (between Marshfield Ave. and Paulina Street)
  • Redmoon kicks off the Spectacle Series on All Saints Day (a.k.a. the Day of the Dead) with its 3rd annual Boneshaker celebration, a night of costumed fun that combines interactive site-specific design and unique contraptions with hours of unexpected entertainment. Friday, November 1 from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m.
  • Nana's Latin-inspired menu pays homage to typical Mexican street food with tostadas, tamales, and churros. This Saturday they're cooking up a special four-course menu, La Noche Ofrenda (night of the offering) to honor the holiday.  The dinner starts off with duck confit-adorned pear tostadas, followed by hominy cake with braised pork cheeks, tamales with braised beef, topped off with churros and chocolate ganache. In addition, Nana's will have an altar where guests can bring mementos to honor the dead. November 2 at 7 p.m. 3267 S. Halsted Street, 312 929 2486

Eek gads...didn't get enough of Day of the Dead celebrations, head to Northwestern University's Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections and check out their new “Death Collection” -- an archive of death-related oddities including headstone design samples, funeral gown advertisements, coffin plates and 19th and 20th century postcards depicting executions, burials, murder scenes and mummified bodies at the library. Currently interested parties must make a request to see items in the exhibit.

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Tags: Day of the Dead

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