– By Tom Schaffner
Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a holiday that’s just around the corner and the Chicago neighborhood of Pilsen is one of the best spots in the city to commemorate it. Typically, Día de los Muertos is celebrated on Nov. 1-2 to coincide with All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Historically, it is a time when Mexicans celebrate the lives of their ancestors.
What is it?
By no means a somber occasion, Día de los Muertos is a celebration of death and life with many bright and colorful traditions. Ofrendas, or offerings, are small, altar-like displays consisting of flowers, candles, photographs, clothing mementos and certain foods or drinks that are designed to welcome the spirits of the dead back to earth. Calaveras, or sugar skulls, are decorated replicas of human skulls that are made out of sugar or clay. They are used to remind the living that life is short and that it’s OK to poke fun at death. Finally, Pan de Muerto is sweetened, softened bread shaped like a bun that is decorated with bone-like designs and eaten as a tribute to the dead at gravesites or ofrendas.
What’s going on in Pilsen?
In Pilsen, a predominantly Mexican neighborhood just southwest of Chicago’s Loop, ofrendas, calaveras and Pan de Muerto are a major part of celebrations throughout the area — in homes, churches and at numerous special events.
The Pilsen-based National Museum of Mexican Art (1852 W. 19th St.) is hosting a huge community event that is also being held to support ongoing programming at the museum. The “Día de los Muertos: Love Never Dies Ball,” Saturday, Nov. 2 from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., is a special celebration that honors life and spirits of los muertos and will feature live music, culinary treats, beverages and a chance to win prizes.
In addition, the Museum also is celebrating with an event called “Día de los Muertos Xicágo” in Harrison Park (the park in which the museum is located) on Sunday, October 27th from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. It will feature ofrendas, live musical performances, face painting, art activities and, of course, Pan de Muerto. It is a family-oriented event and admission is free.
More to Check Out!
Furthermore, athletically-inclined individuals might consider signing up to run in the Carrera de los Muertos/Race of the Dead 5k. This race snakes through the streets of Pilsen and takes runners past many of the neighborhood’s fascinating murals. Runners are cheered on with live mariachis, traditional folkloric dance groups and spectators who are decorated and costumed in Día de los Muertos attire (as are many runners). The race begins at 8 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 2 at Benito Juarez Community Academy, 1450-1510 W. Cermak Rd.
Have a sweet tooth? Dulceria Lupitas, (1730 W. 18th St)., is a throw-back candy shop with a wide range of delicious and inexpensive candy. Like spice? Many of their candies are dusted with chile powder for an extra burst of flavor. In October and November, the shop offers sugar skulls (calaveras) for those who wish to celebrate Día de los Muertos.
Holder of two journalism degrees, including a masters from Northwestern University, Tom Schaffner is a native of the Chicago area and has spent nearly 50 years as a writer, editor, publisher and professional communications consultant. He was also the founder, editor, and publisher of the Chicago File, as well as the co-owner of L Stop Tours.