Celebrate Day of the Dead Sunday at Elgin Public Museum
The weather's getting cooler, leaves are falling, and yards are beginning to bloom scarecrows and skeletons. Halloween is on the way.
But, for those of Mexican heritage, the same clues signal the annual celebrations of Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead in English.
And although it sounds as if the holidays may be similar, in fact, they share very little, as visitors will discover Sunday, Oct. 27, when the Elgin Public Museum will present A Celebration of Día de los Muertos. The free event takes place from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the museum, 225 Grand Blvd., Elgin.
Dating back to the Aztecs and the Mayans, the holiday is celebrated all over the world, but the majority of participants and the roots of the traditions are of Mexican descent and were long in place before Europeans arrived.
"When the conquistadors came in the 16th century to convert those cultures to Christianity, they moved the day to Nov. 2 so it would be close to the Catholic All Saints Day on Nov. 1. It had been in July and August," said Sharry Blazier, education coordinator for the museum.
Día de los Muertos is a day of celebration and joy in what might seem contrary to the American mindset about death, Blazier said. It is a day to invite the dead to visit, have a meal and celebrate their time on earth with beautifully decorated ofrendas, or altars, adorned with candles, flowers and paper picado, which are paper banners folded and cut, much like paper dolls or snowflakes.
"In Mexico, they go to the graveyard itself and an entire family goes to celebrate, and they basically have a little party," said Georgienn Comacho, vice president of the museum's board of directors. "They're sharing meals symbolically with their loved ones."
Candy is one of few things Halloween and Día de los Muertos have in common. But while trick-or-treaters expect miniature versions of popular candy when they visit their neighbors' porches, celebrators of the Day of Dead are quite different.
"They put white icing on and color these little white skulls decoratively and will write the name of the deceased across the forehead in icing," said Blazier.
Some of the older traditions have been joined by a more modern approach, according to Comacho.
"Families decorate the ofrendas with personal items of the deceased," she said. "It memorializes a loved one, be it a baseball cap or a photograph, favorite food, favorite beverage; were they a card player? There's a lot of that now at funeral homes."
In Elgin, Día de los Muertos has evolved from an event that was previously known as "Skulloween." It has morphed into a more traditional event that has become heavily attended by a diverse crowd, according to Mike Surerus, president of museum's board.
"This has been our biggest draw for the last five years," Surerus said. "We average anywhere from 600 to 800 people."
"It's an educational event and people are interested in learning about different cultures," Camacho said. "They want to know what it's all about."
The museum will present decorated ofrendas for viewing and tips to make one at home, as well as art projects and activities for children. There will be craft vendors and three food trucks -- two for food and one for beverages.
"The event is an opportunity to learn something about a culture that is prevalent in Elgin," said Blazier, an Elgin resident. "We are a heavily LatinX community, and I think it's important to spread the word and learn about it."
"Sometimes we lack the time to learn about people of other cultures on a personal level," said Comacho, also an Elgin resident. "This is a good opportunity to do that."
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Day of the Dead celebration
When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 27
Where: The Elgin Public Museum, 225 Grand Blvd., Elgin in Lords Park
Details: (847) 741-6655 or www.elginpublicmuseum.org