Celebrate Hispanic culture and honor the loved ones who have left us at the Missouri History Museum during Día de los Muertos from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 2 and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 3.
“It is important to remember the lives of family and friends who are no longer living,” says Lindsay Newton, director of community engagement for the Missouri Historical Society. “However, the holiday is not one of mourning, but rather an elaborate and joyful celebration. It is believed the spirits of the deceased return to visit the living.”
The holiday, which takes place from the evening of Oct. 31 through Nov. 2, is celebrated widely throughout Mexico and in parts of Central and South America and even the U.S. The traditions vary between locales and are rooted in the customs of the indigenous people of Latin America and influenced by Spanish culture.
“The first day is a time to remember children who have passed, and the second day honors adults who have died,” Newton says. “People who attend the festival will hear traditional music, see traditional dances and enjoy plenty of authentic food … like tamales, tacos, quesadillas, churros, pan dulce and more. The tradition of building altars is perhaps the most meaningful, and visitors will get to see and learn about the altars people build as a tribute to their loved ones.”
Ofrendas are home altars that families build to welcome the souls of their loved ones back into their homes.
“These altars are filled with special things that the person who has died is sure to enjoy, such as their favorite foods and belongings,” Newton says. “Photographs, candles, papel picado (brightly colored cut-paper decorations), and a sugary bread known as pan de muerto (dead bread) are also important elements on altars. Brightly colored flowers – particularly marigolds – often adorn the altars.”
During this year’s festival, the altars will represent traditions from Mexico, Bolivia, Puerto Rico and Colombia.
“People are encouraged to talk with the families who built each altar to learn about the specific meanings and traditions that vary from region to region,” she says. “This year, a special altar is being built to honor the lives of three St. Louisans-Susan Blow, John Meachum and Katherine Dunham who made a positive impact on our community.”
Throughout the weekend, people are encouraged to visit the story-sharing studio to have their stories recorded for the historical society’s collection.
“The museum’s Teens Make History team will help people learn how to record and share their own stories,” Newton explains. “The team will coach small groups of families and friends to interview each other, suggesting questions and giving helpful tips on what to do during and before the interview. People are welcome to talk about anything that is meaningful to them, whether it’s favorite traditions, personal role models or childhood memories.”
An assortment of local art (from paintings to sculpture) inspired by the holiday will be on display, with much of it available for purchase.
“Several traditional themes are present in the artwork, including calaveras (skulls), calacas (skeletons), dancing, musicians, flowers and altars,” Newton says.
On Saturday evening, there will be a procession through the park.
“Before the procession, people are invited to gather at the museum’s front steps for live music as the sun goes down,” Newton says. “Beginning at 6 p.m., the band will lead the procession, followed by dancers, and everyone is welcome to join in and walk along the quarter-mile path through Forest Park. People are invited to bring photos of their loved ones to carry with them as they walk. Artificial candles will be distributed to light the way, and upon returning to the museum, the band will continue to play festive music as the celebration concludes at 7 p.m.”
Although Día de los Muertos corresponds with All Saints Day, it is different from Halloween, Newton says, it’s not about hauntings and it’s not supposed to be scary.
“It’s a joyful holiday when people acknowledge that death is a natural part of the life cycle, not something to avoid thinking about,” she explains. “If you are remembering someone special this year, we invite you to stop by the Central Print booth to make a free custom souvenir print with the name of your loved one.”
There are also plenty of children’s activities to keep the little ones entertained throughout the weekend, including face painting, storytelling, arts and crafts, along with soccer skills practice outside from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day.