Love History and Scary Things? Then Check Out The Día de los Muerto Celebration at the Penn Museum
Penn Museum, in conjunction with the Mexican Consulate in Philadelphia and the Mexican Cultural Center, presents the fifth annual Dia de los Muertos, orDay of the Dead Saturday, October 29, from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm, throughout the galleries of the international museum of art, archaeology and world cultures. Ghoulish skeletons and macabre decorations abound, but make no mistake: Day of the Dead is anything but somber. It’s a vibrant cultural celebration, rich in traditions and connections—it is at heart a celebration of life.
Pageantry and puppetry, music and folkloric dance, paper maché artistry, sugar skull and paper flower making, face painting, and special foods are part of the day. Renowned Philadelphia artist and muralist Cesar Viveros creates the celebration’s centerpiece, an elaborate Day of the Dead altar, in the Veracruz, Mexico style.
Everyone is invited to bring a photo and a memento of their own to place at a communal altar, remembering the passing of a loved one. Day of the Dead or Halloween costumes are encouraged, and costumed guests under age 12 receive half price general admission to the day. Guests dressed in a Day of the Dead-themed costume such as La Catrina, or as a traditional Mexican icon like Frida Kahlo, can join a parade and costume contest at 3:30 pm.
The Day of the Dead Celebration is free with Penn Museum admission ($15, general admission; $13, seniors [65+]; $10, children [6-17] and full-time students [with ID]; $2 ACCESS Card holders; free to children under 5, members, active U.S. Military, STAMP and PennCard holders).
The Mexican Consulate in Philadelphia, the Mexican Cultural Center, and regional community groups join the Museum to make the afternoon possible. The celebration, the first event in the Museum’s World Culture Day series, is made possible in part with generous support from the Philadelphia Cultural Fund and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Telemundo, Visit Philly (Philly Te Ama) and Al Día News Media, are sponsors for the day.
Welcome and a Special Focus
America’s first World Heritage City, Philadelphia is a global city, and this year the celebration puts a spotlight on the Mexican state of Veracruz. Alicia Kerber, Mexico Consul in Philadelphia who officially welcomes the guests at 11:00 am, explains: “With this celebration, we’d also like to recognize the new and growing trade partnership between Veracruz and Philadelphia through the ship line route that connects both ports. We are sure this connection will go beyond trade and will make Mexican culture and traditions flow in as an example of how building bridges can play a key role in constructing a more united and better world. “
Guests will be treated to a popular Veracruz export: the energetic music of the New York-based groupRadio Jarocho, performing with renowned singer Zenen Zeferino. Philadelphia’s own Son revoltura/Philly son jarocho joins in the day. Son jarocho music, gaining popularity worldwide, has its roots in Veracruz.
CENTERPIECE AND REMEMBRANCE: Juan Gabriel (1950 – 2016)
The modern Mexican Day of the Dead holiday is a rich blending of traditions, its origins tracing back to beliefs and activities of indigenous peoples of Central and South Mexico, as well as Catholic celebrations of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. Throughout Mexico and around the world, the Day of the Dead brings family and friends together in a jovial manner to pray for and remember deceased loved ones.
Creating ornate Day of the Dead altars is one of the most important traditions in Mexican, Mexican-
American, and Latino communities worldwide. The altars typically have three levels: one for food and flower offerings to those who have died; one that touches on religious traditions, including the pre-Hispanic tradition that to remember someone is to “bring them back” among the living, and; a final level which dedicates the altar to someone.
This year’s central altar, designed by Cesar Viveros in the Veracruz style, and built with help from the Mexican Consul in Philadelphia staff members, honors popular singer/songwriter Juan Gabriel (born Alberto Aguilera Valadez), born January 7, 1950, who died suddenly of a heart attack August 28 of this year. Additional altars created by community members are also on display.
Schedule for the Day
Beginning at 11:00 am, guests of all ages can join in the celebration with face painting, tissue paper flower making, and shopping amongst Mexican craft vendors. Beginning at 1:00 pm, guests can decorate sugar skulls at an afternoon craft station. Food is very much a part of Day of the Dead celebrations, and guests may sample traditional sweet “pan de muerto” buns and spicy hot chocolate, Maya-style, while supplies last.
At 11:15 am, the Grupo de Danza Nuevo México of Philadelphia performs traditional Mexican folk dances. Marionette puppets from the Mexican Cultural Center perform twice: at an 11:45 show, and again at 1:30 pm.
Philadelphia’s Son revoltura/Philly son jarocho perform at 12:30 pm, and join Radio Jarocho for a rousing final set at 2:30 pm.
The Penn Museum’s Mexico and Central America gallery features art and artifacts from the ancient Maya and other pre-Hispanic cultures of the region.
Beginning at 3:30 pm, judges announce the winners for best community altars, and guests in traditional Day of the Dead costumes are invited to join a procession to end the day.