This month is about skulls, delighted screams and spooky fun — and we’re not just talking about Halloween. Celebrate Day of the Dead throughout October in Pilsen, Chicago’s near west neighborhood that’s rich with Mexican history and culture. “Dia de Muertos” officially falls on November 1 and honors those who have passed away. See just how spirit-lifting and educational it can be by exploring Pilsen’s many sights and sounds with your kids.


The National Museum of Mexican Art hosts the largest Day of the Dead celebration in the United States, trotting out an art exhibit, tours and family craft activities. The exhibit, 100 Años de Posada et Su Catrina, open through December 15, honors the 100th anniversary of the death of José Guadalupe Posada, Mexico’s most renowned popular artist, with an exhibition of altars, installations, pop art and fine art. You can also check out the museum’s permanent collection of Day of the Dead folk art.

Special museum programs highlighting Day of the Dead traditions include the following:

Guided Tours
Saturdays Oct. 19, Nov. 16 and Dec. 14 at 12 p.m. (English) and 1 p.m. (Spanish)
Begin your day in Pilsen by discovering the traditions and history surrounding the special exhibition and then go off and explore the neighborhood.

Craft: Little Skulls / Calaveritas
Friday, Nov. 1 from noon-1:30 p.m.
$20/family (ages 3-5)
Families can learn about and create the traditional art that defines Day of the Dead decorating – the little skulls, or “calaveritas.” Materials are provided.

Craft: Decorating Sugar Skulls
Sunday Oct. 13 & 20 from 12 – 2 p.m.
Suggested donation $3 (all ages)
If you would rather eat your art instead of hang it, join a sugar skull decoration class. You’ll decorate the sugar skulls that can be seen and purchased at the numerous local bakeries around the neighborhood.

National Museum of Mexican Art
1852 W. 19th Street


A day in Pilsen means plenty of eye candy. The neighborhood’s brick buildings have become canvases for well-regarded street artists, who paint images with political, religious and cultural messages. Stroll the streets bounded by 16th Street, the Chicago River and Western Avenue to see the murals. Of note is one by Terrence Faircloth that depicts Grammy Award-winning Mexican singer Joan Sebastian singing into a microphone while on horseback (near 18th & Wood streets). Another not to be missed is on the side of the old Orozco Community Academy, now Cooper School (1645 W. 18th Pl.). The design by local artist Francisco Mendoza features more than 40 panels depicting Mexican and Mexican-American luminaries such as Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Carlos Santana and Selena.

ElevArte’s Dia Muertos de la Risa
Dia Muertos de la Risa is an annual community procession and the longest-running Day of the Dead event in Pilsen, around since 1980. The name translates to “Dying of Laughter” and the event honors loved ones at several street-level “ofrendas” (altars) along the route. The procession begins and ends at Dvorak Park and winds through the area surrounding the park. Before the procession, families can participate in a day of programming curated by ElevArte (a community arts studio), including face painting, circus arts, brass band, ceremonial dances of Ancient Mexico and much more.

Friday, Nov. 1
Dvorak Park
1119 W. Cullerton St.


Alderman Solis’ Annual Pumpkin Patch
The event features free pumpkins for the family, face painting, circus arts, costume parade, pony rides, snacks and other games and activities throughout the day.

Saturday, Oct. 19-20 at 2 p.m.
Dvorak Park
1119 W. Cullerton St.

Redmoon Theater’s “Skelebration”
New to the neighborhood, but not to the Chicago theater scene, is Redmoon Theater, well known for their theatrical spectacle celebrations. This year the company hosts a family version of their Day of the Dead “Boneshaker” performance called “Skelebration.” Housed in their 57,000-square-foot space, the event will feature amazing acrobats, gigantic shadow puppet shows, an indoor park of swings and a build-you-own skeleton mask which can be warn in a parade alongside Redmoon’s mobile DJ.

Saturday, Nov. 2 at 11 a.m. and 2 & 5 p.m.
Sunday, Nov. 3 at 2 & 5 p.m.
Redmoon Theater
2120 S. Jefferson Park


Family restaurants and bakeries are aplenty in Pilsen and must-try treat is pan de muerto (a traditional Mexican bread) and calaveritas (sugar skulls). Local bakeries BomBon and Nuevo Leon Bakery will have each available for walk-ins, but it’s recommended to call in advance if you want to pick up a larger order. Don’t forget to quench your thirst with a traditional Mexican hot chocolate at the newly opened, La Catrina Cafe (named after Posada’s iconic Day of the Dead skeleton woman who wears a large hat). The café also features a full menu if you need a non-sugary snack or meal for the entire family.

BomBon Bakery
1457 W. 18th St.

Nuevo Leon Bakery
1634 W. 18th St.

La Catrina Cafe
1011 W. 18th St.

Which of these activities will you try? Let us know in the Comments section below.

— Jill Evans La Penna

Photos: Courtesy of National Museum of Mexican Art, Moonrat on Flickr creative commons, Chicago Park District, Howard L on Yelp