Celebrating the departed

Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a holiday that calls families and friends to gather together and remember loved ones who have passed on and away. On Nov. 1, children and infants are memorialized; adults are honored the following day.

Many people believe that it’s somehow easier for souls to return to our realm on these particular days—and what departed soul would want to return for a sad, teary memorial? Hence Dia de los Muertos is a time for memories and prayer, yes, but it’s also a chance to celebrate and remind ourselves that death does not mean that a spirit is gone forever.

Typical decorations depict skeletons dancing and frolicking, and bright marigolds symbolize a lighted pathway leading loved ones out of the world of the dead and back into our company, if only for a day.

The 22nd Annual Dia de los Muertos exhibition runs from Sept. 26–Dec. 14 at the National Museum of Mexican Art, 1852 W. 19th St., (312) 738-9749; nationalmuseumofmexicanart.org in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood.

Check out the magnificent and thought-provoking offrendas, altars that display photos and mementos of loved ones or even famous figures who have died. Plan your visit to coincide with the Folk Art Week celebration (Oct. 16-22), where you’ll be able to see artists and craftspeople at work.

Take a walk down the heart of Pilsen, on 18th Street, to explore the shops, bakeries, restaurants and cafes. Choose from a variety of mouthwatering Tres Leches cakes at Bombon Bakery, 1508 W. 18th St., (312) 733-7788, bomboncafe.com and be sure to indulge in pan de muertos, a.k.a. bread of the dead, which is a simple yeast bread often shaped in the form of a skull. Take home some colorfully decorated sugar candy skulls as a treat.

Pick up some Spanish books and magazines at Liberia Girón, 1443 W. 18th St., (312) 226-2086 and traditional herbal remedies at Oxala, 1651 W. 18th St., (312) 850-1655. A trip to Pilsen isn’t complete without a trip to Nuevo Leon, 1515 W. 18th St., (312) 421-1517 for some authentic, family-style Mexican food. Don’t forget to grab a bag or two or fresh, warm tortillas to take with you on the road.

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