Day of the Dead tradition offers natural way to view death

For many parents in America, talking about death and dying is a difficult subject. But the Mexican Day of the Dead exhibit at the National Museum of Mexican Art can help families explore the subject in a healthy, less fearful way.

“For indigenous cultures, death was not seen as a sad moment, but as a passageway to where we’re supposed to be,” says Phillip Jiménez, vice president of the museum. “That’s the root of why it’s such a healthy way of processing this transition because it’s not to be feared; you’re going to a better place.”

The Day of the Dead is Nov. 1-2, when Mexicans believe the souls of the dead are allowed to return for the day to their families. In preparation, families prepare ofrendas or altars that celebrate that person’s life.

“It’s an offering to those spirits who are arriving and who are visiting us,” says Cesáreo Moreno, chief curator at the museum. “When the souls arrive in Mexico, the families put out these offerings. It’s a spiritual altar with photos of the deceased, images and icons of religious and spiritual characters, often decorated with flowers, food, maybe cigarettes or a little tequila.”

This year’s exhibit, which runs Sept. 13-Dec. 15, will include many ofrendas from various parts of Mexico. Classes will be held for families to create their own ofrendas, as well as sugar skulls, another Day of the Dead tradition.

Moreno recommends parents visit the museum’s website to see the variety of art classes offered. “We work with children and adults to create miniature ofrendas and it is explained in a way that children and family can understand,” Moreno says. “In these classes, death is brought up in such a normal way. I honestly believe a lot of these classes take a little bit of the scariness out of the inevitable.”

Mexican Museum of Art

1852 W. 19th St., Chicago

(312) 738-1503

Admission is always free. Some classes charge a fee.

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