9 ways to celebrate Día de los Muertos with your family in Chicago

Walking through the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago, it’s easy to see the excitement building among its residents and visitors to celebrate Day of the Dead (or Día de los Muertos).

Dia de los Muertos SignStore walls are decorated with dancing skeletons. Bakery shelves are lined with sugar skulls. Brightly colored paper flags flap in the breeze over narrow alleyways. And, miniature skeletons sit, stand and even eat meals in the windows of homes, restaurants and stores.

While the holiday overlaps with Halloween, it is completely different. Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday observed in Mexico and other countries around the world. It spans three days, October 31 through November 2, and coincides with All Hallow’s Eve, Hallowmass and All Soul’s Day.

Day of the Dead ArtDuring the holiday, people remember friends and family members who have passed away. To do so, people often build alters (or ofrendas) to honor the deceased. Traditionally, the alters are decorated with sugar skulls and marigolds. Often, the favorite foods or beverages of the departed are placed out next to or on the alters. Families also visit the graves of their loved ones, leaving gifts for them in their memory.

With nearly two million Hispanics residing in Chicago, it is only fitting that there are many ways to publicly celebrate Day of the Dead with friends, family and the community. Together, the celebrations offer a way for people to honor their loved ones and immerse themselves in the holiday traditions.

Here are 9 ways you can celebrate Day of the Dead with your family in Chicago:

National Museum of Mexican Art1. Tour the Rito y Recuerdo: Day of the Dead exhibition at the National Museum of Mexican Art. The National Museum of Mexican Art’s annual Rito y Recuerdo: Day of the Dead exhibit is now open. The exhibit celebrates many of the artists who died this year, including Fernando Castro Pacheco, Sam Z. Coronado, Gabriel García Márquez, Nelson Mandela, José Montoya, Alejandro Nava and many others. It includes the works of more than 60 artists showcasing how they pay homage to their peers.

National Museum of Mexican Art
Now through Dec member 14, 2014
1852 W. 19th St. (Pilsen)
Free admission

2. Paint a sugar skull on canvas at Mayfair Park. Sugar skulls are used to decorate alters in homes and businesses during Day of the Dead. On Thursday, October 23, you can decorate a canvas with a sugar skull of your own. Held at Mayfair Park, participants (ages 9 – 12) can paint one canvas during the evening workshop.

Mayfair Park
4550 W. Sunnyside Ave. (Mayfair Park)
Thursday, October 23, 5 – 8 pm
$15 for the workshop; register online

3. Design Day of the Dead jewelry at Eugene Field Park. On Friday, October 24, children ages 9 and older can learn about the history of the Day of the Dead and design their own jewelry set. Each set includes a pair of earrings, necklace and bracelet, and reflects Day of the Dead holiday themes. Participants also will be able to enjoy traditional Day of the Dead treats like champurrado (a chocolate-based drink) and pan de muerto (a sweet bread roll).

Eugene Field Park
5100 N. Ridgeway Ave. (Albany Park)
Friday, October 24, 5:30 – 8 pm
$20 for the workshop, Register online with the Register with the Eugene Park Advisory Council

Sugar Skull4. Make a sugar skull at Eugene Field Park. On Saturday, October 25, children ages 6 and older can learn about the history of the Day of the Dead and make their own sugar skulls from scratch during one of two workshops taking place at Eugene Field Park. Participants also will be able to enjoy traditional Day of the Dead treats like champurrado (a chocolate-based drink) and pan de muerto (a sweet bread roll).

Eugene Field Park
5100 N. Ridgeway Ave. (Albany Park)
Saturday, October 25, 10:30 am – 12:30 pm and 1:30 – 3:30 pm
$20 for the workshop; Register online with the Register with the Eugene Park Advisory Council

5. Participate in family-friendly activities as part of the Day of Remembrance Art Show at Everybody’s Coffee. To celebrate Day of the Dead, Everybody’s Coffee is hosting a mixed art show. As part of the show, the coffee shop will offer family-friendly activities on Saturday, October 25 and Saturday, November 1. Activities include face painting, sugar skull decorating, and arts and crafts.

Everybody’s Coffee also will host a “Community Ofrenda” until Monday, November 10. Community members are invited to bring in photos or mementos of your loved ones to help showcase the special place they held in your life.

Day of Rememberance Art Show and Children’s Activities
Everybody’s Coffee
935 W. Wilson Ave. (Buena Park)
Saturday, October 25, 10 am – 12 pm
Saturday, November 1, 10 am – 2 pm
Free admission; separate cost for face painting

6. Lace up your running shoes and run (or walk) in the Race of the Dead 5k. Runners and walkers can take to the streets to participate in United Neighborhood Organization’s 8th Annual Carrera de los Muertos/Race of the Dead 5k. The course takes participants of all ages through the streets of Pilsen and University Village. To help keep their energy up, mariachi bands, Mexican folkloric dance groups, and Chicago house music DJs will be stationed along the course. The overall winners and runners who finish in the top three spots within their age division will receive Day of the Dead sugar skulls decorated by UNO Charter School Network students. At the post-race party, participants can refuel on Mexican and Latin American food, served up in a “traditional Day of the Dead setting.”

Carrera de los Muertos: Race of the Dead 5k
Bartolomé De Las Casas Charter School
1641 W. 16th St. (Pilsen)
Saturday, November 1 at 8 am
Registration details are available online

Muertas de la Risa7. Join in a community procession through Pilsen to see street-level ofrendas. As part of its 35th Annual Dia de Muertos celebration, ElevArte offers an evening of “spectacle, health education and ancestral remembrance.” At 5 pm, participants can don their Day of the Dead-inspired costumes and join in on a community procession through Pilsen. Other activities taking place throughout the afternoon and evening include face painting and music performances.

Muertos de la Risa with the Soulful Nutricuates
Elevarte Community Studio
1119 W. Cullerton St. (Pilsen)
Saturday, November 1, 2 – 6:30 pm
Free admission

8. Enjoy a Dia de los Muertos concert by Chicago Sinfonietta. The Chicago Sinfonietta will perform two Dia de los Muertos concerts – one in Naperville on Saturday, November 15 and a second one in Chicago on  Monday, November 17. The concerts feature the “rollicking, exuberant music” of Mexico by Arturo Rodríguez and Arturo Marquez, and captures the “duality of grief and joy of the Day of the Dead celebration.” The performances also include Yin-Yin, inspired by a poem about the death of a cousin, and the tortured love story of El Amor Brujo, which will be told by Redmoon using with shadow puppets.

Wentz Concert Hall
171 E. Chicago Ave. (Naperville, Ill.)
Saturday, November 15 at 8 pm
Tickets are $10 – $58

Symphony Center
220 S Michigan Ave. (South Loop)
Monday, November 17 at 7:30 pm
Tickets are $10 – $58

9. Make your own Day of the Dead-inspired recipes and arts and crafts – or read a book or watch a movie. No matter where you live, you can enjoy a family-friendly Day of the Dead activity at home with your family. Kid World Citizen and Mommy Maestra feature many Day of the Dead arts and crafts, recipes, books, and other activities on their websites.  A sampling of just a few fantastic and creative ideas follow below.

– Make calabaza en tacha – a sweet pumpkin dessert that kids will love.
– Bake up some traditional pan de muertos.

Credit: Mommy Maestra

Credit: Mommy Maestra

Arts and Crafts:
– Decorate your child’s face with festive Day of the Dead face paint.
– Create glow-in-the-dark skull bags.
– Decorate a Calavera pumpkin.
– Make an easy skull for Day of the Dead.
– Color a Day of the Dead coloring sheet.

Books and Movies:
– Watch the new Book of Life movie.
– Read Day of the Dead books with your children.

Do you celebrate Day of the Dead? If so, how do you plan to honor your friends and loved ones during the holiday? Where will you be spending the holiday? Please share your plans and experiences in the comments below.

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