Penn Museum celebrates Day of the Dead

Day of the Dead

Cesar Viveros

A Day of the Dead altar created by artists Cesar Viveros and Ana Guissel Palma. Day of the Dead altars are created to honor the dead, and are central to Mexican Día de los Muertos celebrations.

The Penn Museum is offering a taste of Mexican culture on Saturday, Nov. 2, with the Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, celebration.

Originating in Mexico as part of the Roman Catholic Church’s All Souls' Day, Day of the Dead events bring together family and friends to remember loved ones who have passed away. In recent years, the observance has also become popular in the United States.

The Museum event will include many traditional rituals, including honoring the deceased with offerings of flowers and food.

“If you go to the cemeteries in Mexico, people are actually having a party with family members, and spending the whole night there,” says Cecilia Humphrey, director of Philadelphia’s Mexican Cultural Center. “They bring the dead person’s favorite foods, and even their clothes. It’s a homage to their life, and a celebration of who they were.”

The Museum celebration will have a three-level ceremonial altar, called an ofrenda, created by Humphrey and Philadelphia artist Cesar Viveros. Visitors are invited to bring a photo or memento of a family member or friend who has died to place at a communal altar.

On one level of the altar, visitors can place food and flowers.

The second level touches on religious traditions, including the belief that by remembering someone, the thought brings him or her back among the living.

The third level of the Museum's altar honors Mexican political cartoonist Jose Guadalupe Posada on the 100th anniversary of his death.

Posada created the elaborately dressed “La Catrina (Elegant Skull)” figure to mock the excesses of the wealthy. 

A 16-foot tall “La Catrina” puppet will be on display at the Museum.

The celebration will be held from 1 to 4 p.m., with the afternoon’s events also featuring storytelling, music, dance, and mask-making.

Sponsored by the Mexican Consulate of Philadelphia, the Mexican Cultural Center, and the Penn Museum, the event is free with Museum admission. 

Originally published on October 31, 2013