Aurora's 'Sugar Skull City' to honor Day of the Dead among suburbs' Halloween displays
Colorfully painted storefronts and intricate window displays have transformed downtown Aurora into what organizers are calling "Sugar Skull City," honoring a traditional Mexican holiday that reunites the living and dead.
For years, the city has celebrated Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, in great fashion, hosting a slew of cultural activities in a downtown festival that typically draw thousands of people, said Marissa Amoni, manager of the Aurora Downtown nonprofit.
But the COVID-19 pandemic forced organizers to re-imagine the event, she said, prompting the creation of a 30-day celebration beginning Thursday that features festive artwork, self-guided tours, business promotions, virtual content and a socially distanced scavenger hunt.
"There's a lot to take in," Amoni said, "and with 30 days to do it, it'll be a fun thing for people to do and not really have to worry about crowds."
As sugar skull artwork by local artists adorn downtown Aurora, Halloween-themed displays are popping up in other parts of the suburbs, including at the home of West Dundee resident Myke Kustief, whose elaborate decorations have been a focal point in her neighborhood for years.
In Mexican culture, Day of the Dead is celebrated immediately after Halloween on Nov. 1 and 2, when families gather to welcome visiting spirits of departed relatives. Home altars, each known as an ofrenda, are often decorated with wreaths, crosses, skeletons, photos, lights and flowers honoring their loved ones.
Spearheaded by event director Jose Torres, the Aurora festivities began as a small family celebration and grew into a communitywide effort with a street fest, a fashion show and other offerings from participating businesses and venues. Even in its new format this year, he said, the event's purpose will remain the same.
"It really honors the tradition of the Day of the Dead and what Jose Torres started 11 years ago," Amoni said. "It'll be an extension of those activities."
Sugar Skull City, which continues through Nov. 15, aims to highlight Mexican restaurants and bakeries, as well as the several Latino-owned businesses in Aurora, Amoni said. Eateries and shops are offering special merchandise and menu items, and a self-guided walking tour and scavenger hunt will lead visitors through the downtown area.
On the Aurora Downtown website, participants will be able to access a tutorial on how to make sugar skulls, a video of an Aztec dance ceremony, downloadable coloring pages and directions to participate in an at-home ofrenda contest. The celebration also coincides with Aurora's First Fridays event on Nov. 6.