When Amber Gilmore was a young girl attending grade school in Mexico, she looked forward to April 30 because it was the most fun-filled day of the school year.
Classes were shortened or cancelled so the children could play games, enjoy sweet treats and put on parades in celebration of Día del Niño, or the "Day of the Child."
"It’s a big day," says Gilmore, now a representative with the Mexican Consulate in Chicago.
There is not a similar holiday in American culture. Día del Niño doesn’t commemorate a historical event, nor is it rooted in religious significance. Rather, it is simply a day set aside to celebrate children, and the joys of being a child.
The origin of the holiday is difficult to pin down. The Mexican observance most likely came from International Children’s Day, which was created by UNICEF in 1925 to promote the health and wellness of children in developing countries, says Dina Berger, professor of Latin American history at Loyola University in Chicago. Following the Mexican revolution in the early 20th century, the Mexican government wanted to promote a sense of national pride and identity in Mexico, and the holiday fit, Berger says.
The Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum in Pilsen brought the tradition to the United States with its annual Día del Niño Family Festival.
This year’s free event is from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 8 at the University of Illinois at Chicago Pavilion, 1150 W. Harrison St., Chicago.
Last year, the celebration drew more than 10,000 people for games, food and raffles, says Nancy Villafranca-Guzman, education director for the museum.
This year, the activities for toddlers to preteens, will include a soccer clinic.
In addition, the museum and the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children will offer health screenings, cooking demonstrations and interactive physical activities.
A two-kilometer walk begins at 10 a.m. at the museum, 1852 W. 19th St., and goes to the UIC Pavilion. A free trolley provided by the Latino Information Center will run from Harrison Park to the festival and back.
Community support for the festival has been invaluable, Villafranca-Guzman says. "It’s very important for us to keep the children connected to their heritage, traditions and culture."
For more information on the Día del Niño Family Festival, call (312) 738-1503 or visit www.mfacmchicago.org.
Thomas Wilmes, Medill News Service