Day of the Dead —Día de los Muertos— Celebration at the Penn Museum

Saturday, November 1, 11:00 am to 4:00 pm


PHILADELPHIA, PA— Throughout Mexico and around the world, Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) brings family and friends together to pray for and remember loved ones who have died. Far from a morose affair, Day of the Dead is a celebration, rich in traditions and connections—it is at heart a celebration of life.

On Saturday, November 1, 11:00 am to 4:00 pm, the Penn Museum presents the third annual Day of the Dead Celebration, with pageantry, traditional music and dance, storytelling and puppetry, paper maché artistry, sugar skull and mask making, face painting, special foods and more. Guests can view colorful altars (ofrendas) designed by regional community groups, and a large Day of the Dead altar created by the Mexican Consulate in Philadelphia and the Mexican Cultural Center, co-organizers of the event, with the help of local artist Cesar Viveros.

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 Celebration, the first in the Museum’s World Culture Day series, is presented with support from the William M. King Charitable Foundation and PECO.

Guests to the Day of the Dead Celebration also enjoy free admission to the Treasures Jewelry Sale and Show in the Museum’s Kintner-Dietrich galleries. Presented by the Penn Museum Women’s Committee, Treasures features antique, vintage, and contemporary jewelry and accessories from two dozen designers drawn from around the country. Proceeds from Treasures benefit the Museum’s cultural and educational programs. Details, including special Saturday programs, are online at

Day of the Dead altarDay of the Dead altars honor the lives of those who have passed. Creating these altars is one of the most important traditions during Day of the Dead in Mexico—and in Mexican-American and Latino communities worldwide. The modern Mexican holiday is a rich blending of traditions, its origins traced 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.

The altars typically have three levels: one for food and flower offerings to those who have died, and one that touches on religious traditions, including the pre-Hispanic tradition that to remember someone is to “bring them back” among the living. The final level dedicates the altar to someone.

This year, the Mexican Cultural Center and the Mexican Consulate in Philadelphia dedicate the celebration’s centerpiece altar to Mexican poet, essayist, and diplomat Octavio Paz (1914–1998). Staff from both organizations are collaborating in the design and construction of a massive seven-tiered altar honoring the 1990 Nobel Prize recipient. Visitors can view the centerpiece altar in the Museum’s Chinese Rotunda.

FacepaintingGuests of all ages can join in the celebration with craft making and face painting activities beginning at 11:00 am. Families can enjoy shaping sugar skulls starting at 1:00 pm. Food is very much a part of the Day of the Dead celebrations, and guests may sample traditional “pan de muerto” bread and spicy hot chocolate, Maya-style, while supplies last.

At 1:15 pm, children’s author Cynthia Weill reads her new book “Mi Familia Calaca,” accompanied by the marionettes of Los Ramirez Castañeda de Xoxocotla. Dancers from Grupo de Danza Nuevo Mexico don traditional dress, paint their faces as skulls (calaveras), and perform Mexican folk dances at 1:50 pm. At 2:30 pm, student musicians from Mexico’s La Escuela de Música del Estado de Hidalgo, play huapango music for the Day of the Dead Celebration.

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. Dr. Elin Danien, a consulting scholar in the Museum’s American Section and an expert on the ancient Maya, leads a Culinary Expeditions gallery tour, “Delicious, and Good for You!” exploring some principal Maya foods and cooking techniques. The tour departs from the Kamin Main Entrance at 1:30 pm.