Children decorated sugar skulls and visited an altar honoring great Kansas Citians who have died. Giant marionette skeletons danced among marigolds and flames.
It was all part of a kid-friendly celebration of the Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos — Day of the Dead — Sunday afternoon at the Kansas City Museum.
The holiday picnic, hosted by the museum along with the Mattie Rhodes Center, featured performances by Stone Lion Puppet Theatre and the Latin music band Mundo Nuovo, face painting by Sister Act and lawn games with KC Crew. Organized in advance of the Nov. 1-2 holiday, Sunday’s event focused on giving kids a chance to connect with Mexican heritage and enjoy the diverse culture of Kansas City’s Northeast neighborhood, said Paul Gutierrez, director of a recreation at the museum.
“It’s really geared toward kids,” Gutierrez said of Sunday’s event, which was held early to give space to other celebrations, such as the Nov. 6 Día de los Muertos festival at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
“I would say to the kids, it’s about connecting with your ancestors who passed away,” Gutierrez said.
Traditionally a lively, colorful festival, Día de los Muertos celebrates the lives of the dead and comes with its own style of art steeped in themes of life and death. The holiday emerged from a blend of indigenous Mexican traditions and Catholic holidays brought by Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century.
Prominent among the symbols of the holiday are monarch butterflies — for their seasonal migrations that call to mind the circle of life — and marigolds, whose smell is said to bring the spirits of the dead back for the celebration.
For young children interested in the holiday, Gutierrez recommends the 2014 Disney film “The Book of Life,” which tells the story of three Mexican youths navigating life challenges both natural and supernatural.
Sunday’s event was the third annual celebration held jointly by the museum and the Mattie Rhodes Center, which has been organizing Día de los Muertos events for 18 years.
Among the people lined up for the festival Sunday was Reneé Estrada, a Northeast neighborhood native who brought her 10-year-old daughter. The holiday is important to her family, Estrada said.
“I’m trying to keep my daughter in touch with our heritage,” Estrada said. “As you get older, you lose more people who are important to you. And it’s important to honor them and the memories they gave to you.”
Did You Know?
The Day of the Dead or Dia de Los Muertos originated centuries ago in Mexico, where it is still widely celebrated to this day. The holiday is a blend of pre-Hispanic indigenous beliefs and Spanish Catholic beliefs.
It is a time of celebration and remembrance of loved ones who have passed away, much like Memorial Day in the United States. It is a festive, joyous time of celebration. Day of the Dead is Mexico’s most important holiday, which means they invest a lot of time and money into celebrating Dia de Los Muertos, moreso than any other holiday.
The Day of the Dead falls on November 1 and 2 of each year, coinciding with the Catholic holidays All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day.
Although November 2nd is the official date for Day of the Dead, it is celebrated between October 31st and November 2nd. Usually the preparations and some festivities start even earlier than that. So really, the “Day” of the Dead can also be called the “Days” of the Dead, because the holiday spans more than one day.
Traditionally, November 1 is the day for honoring dead children and infants, and November 2 is the day for honoring deceased adults.