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

Saturday October 31, 11 am to 4 pm

This Halloween, Penn Museum, in conjunction with the Mexican Cultural Center and the Mexican Consulate in Philadelphia, invites guests of all ages to a celebration enjoyed in Mexico, and increasingly in places throughout the world: Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. With more than a few ghoulish skeletons and macabre decorations, this annual event 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.

The fourth annual Day of the Dead Celebration at the Penn Museum takes place from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm. with pageantry and giant puppetry, music and dance, storytelling, paper maché artistry, sugar skull and mask making, face painting, special foods and more. The centerpiece of the day is an elaborate Day of the Dead altar to be created by renowned Philadelphia artist and muralist Cesar Viveros and Mexican Consulate personnel. Fittingly, this year’s central altar honors another muralist, Mexico’s Rufino Tamayo (1899 – 1991). Community groups vie for prizes on their own creative altars, also on display for the day.

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. Halloween costumes are encouraged, and costumed guests under 12 receive half price 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.

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 Cultural Center, the Mexican Consulate in Philadelphia, Eye’s Gallery, and regional community groups join the Museum to make the afternoon possible. The Celebration, the first in the Museum’s World Culture Day series, is presented with support from the William M. King Charitable Foundation and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. Visit Philly (Philly Te Ama), Al Día News Media, and Independence Blue Cross are additional sponsors.

Centerpiece and Remembrance

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.

Renowned local artist and Mexican Cultural Center board member Cesar Viveros chose this year’s centerpiece altar dedicatee: Mexican muralist Rufino Tamayo (1899¬–1991). Tamayo shunned the political style of his contemporaries, instead expressing what he believed represented traditional Mexico. Living between Mexico and New York, his work includes lithographs and woodcuts. He is also credited with inventing the Mixografia technique, which results in prints with three-dimensional texture.

A muralist himself, Viveros recently gained international acclaim working on a Philadelphia-based project for the World Meeting of Families. He designed The Sacred Now mural, earning himself and his collaborators a Guinness World Record for most contributions to a painting by numbers. Across 16 paint days, more than 2700 people, including area residents and World Meeting of Families attendees, helped finish the work, which Pope Francis signed in front of a crowd of thousands.

In addition to the centerpiece altar, visitors can also view colorful altars created by a variety of local community groups and Mexican restaurants, including: Novedades Marisol (Norristown), Lupita’s Mexican Market (Norristown), the Springside Chestnut Hill Academy’s Spanish Club, and El Rey restaurant in Philadelphia.

Activities for All Ages

Beginning at 11:00 am, guests of all ages can join in the celebration with craft making, face painting, and meeting giant puppets, including La Catrina—the Elegant Skull—as they walk through the crowd. Families can enjoy decorating 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, sweet, “pan de muerto” buns and spicy hot chocolate, Maya-style, while supplies last.

Live entertainment at 12:30 pm features traditional Aztec rhythms presented by the Cenzontle Cuicatl Aztec Dance Crew. The showcase continues with Ballet Folklorico Yaretzi performing an array of folk dances from across various regions of Mexico. The ensemble also accompanies local mariachi singer Pedro Villaseñor, a native of Zacatecas, Mexico.

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. Family gallery tours at 12:00 pm and 3:00 pm explore how diverse ancient cultures honored their dead, and include a stop in to see the to-scale installation of a massive burial in Beneath the Surface: Life, Death, and Gold in Ancient Panama, a special exhibition closing after November 1.

More about the Penn Museum

The Penn Museum (the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology) is dedicated to the study and understanding of human history and diversity. Founded in 1887, the Museum has sent more than 300 archaeological and anthropological expeditions to all the inhabited continents of the world. With an active exhibition schedule and educational programming for children and adults, the Museum offers the public an opportunity to share in the ongoing discovery of humankind's collective heritage.

More about the Mexican Cultural Center

The Mexican Cultural Center is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization devoted to promoting understanding and awareness of the cultural and artistic diversity of Mexico and its influence in the Delaware Valley in the United States. Founded in 1994, the Center is a supporter of the increasing Mexican Community in Eastern Pennsylvania, Southern New Jersey and Delaware and serves as a networking hub for those interested in Mexican Culture. The MCC is supported by contributions from corporations, individuals, memberships and self-generated revenue. For more information, visit

Photos, top to bottom: Traditional Mexican pageantry, folk music, and dance at the Penn Museum’s Day of the Dead celebration (Photo: Penn Museum). A traditional Day of the Dead altar honors deceased loved ones. Visitors can see an array of altars at the Penn Museum’s annual Day of the Dead celebration (Photo: Penn Museum). The Cenzontle Cuicatl Aztec Dance Crew performs a traditional Aztec dance. (Photo: Penn Museum).


Jill DiSanto, Public Relations Director