Dia De Los Muertos
Dia de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead is a relatively new concept to me. My grandmother was born in Mexico, but it doesn’t seem that this is a tradition that the Amesquita’s brought to the States. It was only in Mexico City last year that I learned the real meaning and tradition of the holiday. As one of my tour guides explained, Dia de Los Muertos is a time to honor those who have passed on. An altar is built, and the deceased person’s favorite foods are cooked and left on the altar. The family goes away and upon returning, they will find that the food has lost its flavor, a sure sign that the spirit of their deceased loved one has visited and feasted upon their favorites.
Here is some interesting background I found at MexicanSugarSkull.com:
They believe that the gates of heaven are opened at midnight on October 31, and the spirits of all deceased children (angelitos) are allowed to reunite with their families for 24 hours. On November 2, the spirits of the adults come down to enjoy the festivities that are prepared for them.
Day of the Dead Chicago
In late October of last year, I was riding the train home from watching a depressing Game 4 of the World Series, where the Cubs had fallen for the second night in a row to the Cleveland Indians. Scrolling through my phone, I came upon a story featuring the Dia de Los Muertos celebration in Pilsen the following day. Despite being exhausted from travel and late nights watching baseball, I knew this was my last fall in Chicago and if I wanted to experience it, the following day was my only chance. Knowing that you are moving away is a great motivator to seize the day! Fine. It was free bread – they were advertising free Day of the Dead bread. What can I say? You’ve got to try this bread!
Families had altars set up on a football field behind the museum. In addition to baked goods, sugar skulls are a popular symbol of Day of the Dead. Many altars included non-food items as well, representing the passions and joys of the deceased. It was touching to see the altars, many of which appeared to be for very young family members. I so love this tradition of honoring and celebrating those we’ve lost.
In addition to altars, there was a kid station with craft projects and face painting, and booths selling food and hot drinks. Another field had a stage set up where a band was playing.
Getting to Day of the Dead Chicago
The festival is located at the National Museum of Mexican Art in the Pilsen neighborhood. (Check their website for the most up-to-date information, including dates and times of the next festival) An Uber from my River West neighborhood was pretty inexpensive. Street parking is also usually available, although you may have to walk a few blocks at the peak of the festival.
CTA or public transit is a great way to reach Pilsen – these three are the best options:
Pink Line train to the Damen stop or 18th Street stop
Number 50 Damen bus to 19th Street
Number 9 Ashland bus to 18th Street
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