Chicago's annual Day of the Dead is a longstanding Mexican tradition—a beautiful homage to life and death. Every year, locals and visitors come together to honor the memories of their beloved. This post takes a closer look at how the rich tradition and events of the festival are celebrated in Chicago to mark this colorful and festive time!
In this post, you'll discover:
What is Day of the Dead?
Every October 31st through November 2nd, Day of the Dead, also known as Día de los Muertos, honors the memories of those who have passed away. It's believed that the souls of the deceased return to be with their families, and the living welcome them home with elaborate offerings and celebrations. These three days have been traditionally observed by Mexicans it is also celebrated all over Latin America, and Chicago, home to over 1.9 million Latinx residents, is no exception.
Family, friends, and visitors come together to partake in colorfully decorated festivities, which involve giving or offering favorite dishes and drinks and paying homage to the deceased with elaborate altars. Participants enjoy dressing in costumes, listening to live music, partaking in traditional activities, and, of course, eating delicious Mexican cuisine. This celebration is not for just Mexicans either. Regardless of your heritage, Day of the Dead Chicago provides an extraordinary opportunity to pay tribute to those who are gone and marks the importance of honoring and keeping their memory alive.
Traditional Day of the Dead Activities in Chicago
1. The Ofrendas - The Altarso
Every year, theNational Museum of Mexican Art in the Pilsen neighborhood holds the celebrated "Xicago celebration." This event is an opportunity to appreciate the art of traditional ofrendas—the beautiful altars that share many offerings as a way to honor the deceased. There are vibrant displays of candles, orange marigolds (the flower of Dia de los Muertos), paper, and skeletal figures that mimic the look and gestures of everyday living humans. The favorite foods, drinks, photographs, and personal items of their loved ones are placed on the altar and around all the decorations. Aside from the colorful decorations, visitors can enjoy live music, face painting, and art activities. For this occasion, traditional foods are served and available for anyone to sample.
Another place to experience the beauty of the altars is in theLittle Village neighborhood—a hot spot of Mexican-American culture and cuisine — where the spirit of the celebration and the primary Spanish language is alive and vibrant.
Photo credit: readtheforum.org
2. Day of the Dead Parade Chicago
Get ready for the 44th Annual Muertos de la Risa- Day of the Dead Chicago Parade. Hundreds of Chicagoans apply skeleton face paint and put on traditional and colorful costumes for a parade through the Pilsen neighborhood. The procession includes many elements of a traditional Day of the Dead parade in Mexico, such as performances by Aztec dancers, Mariachi bands, and some new twists like show bands from the Chicago area. If you wish, join in the festivities and get your face painted at Dvorak Park, even if you just want to watch.
Photo Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
3. Día de los Muertos Chicago - Mexican Cuisine
Bakeries and restaurants in Chicago prepare the classic dishes, the most famous, the Pan de Muertos (Day of the Dead sweetbread) which is definitely worth a try! Enjoy the sweet treat with a steaming cup of Mexican hot chocolate to wash it down. Popular bakeries such as El Nopal Bakery, La Baguette Bakery, and Rosy's Bakery will have these delicacies ready and waiting for you!
Take your Day of the Dead cuisine up a level to the upscale French-Mexican fusion eatery Tzuco, on N State Street downtown. This place pulls out all the stops for the occasion. Notable Mexican chef, Carlos Gaytan, prepares unique dishes and flavors with a Chicago flare with esteemed guest chefs. Be sure to reserve your table in advance.
4. Day of the Dead Decorations
During the Día de los Muertos, Mexican homes are decorated with cherished family photos and altars containing sugar skulls—a decoration to represent the departed souls. These skulls are brightly painted with intricate details and usually include the name of the beloved family member written on the forehead. Warning: these traditional works of art should not be eaten! They are decorative folk art pieces, not food (which are hard as a rock). Sugar skulls can be found in various stores throughout the city, including this local Mexican handicrafts store.
Other Notable Day of the Dead Events in Chicago
1. Día de los Muertos at 360 Chicago
Date: Friday, Nov 3, 2023
Join the party with the city's best views! The second annual Day of the Dead event is at CloudBar. The event includes food, drinks, dancing, live performances, and an overall great time. Local vendors sell their products, including jewelry, clothing, candy, and skin care products. Get your face painted 94 floors up for the occasion too! Check out last year's successful Day of the Dead event attended by over 350 guests. Tickets are on sale mid-late September!
2. Day of the Dead Run in Chicago - 5K Walk/Run
Date: Saturday, Oct, 28,2023- Pilsen, Chicago 8 am.
Celebrate Day of the Dead with a 5k run or walk! This annual event in select cities worldwide celebrates music, entertainment, colorful costumes, and an energizing run or walk. All registered runners will receive a fun and festive t-shirt.
3. Annual Día de los Muertos/Halloween Celebration at Maxwell Street Market
Date: Sunday, Oct 29, 2023
The Maxwell Street Market is an exciting outdoor event location and a long-standing outdoor market in the city. At this combined Halloween + Day of the Dead event, you’ll find live music and dance performances, art activities like sugar skull making, marigold flower crafts, and more!
4. Hermosa Noche de Calaveras
Join in on the fun in the Hermosa neighborhood on Armitage Avenue between Pulaski Road and Kostner Avenue to celebrate Dia de Muertos with the whole family. The event includes activities, music and performers, restaurant specials, altars, and free giveaways. Find out about this Day of the Dead event sponsored by Palenque LSNA and information about past year's events.
Check back again soon for the most current list of events and activities happening for Chicago's Day of the Dead, and find a complete list of Day of the Dead events here.
Photo Credit: Sharon Hoyer