Día de los Muertos, also known as Day of the Dead, is a tradition that has been practiced for more than 3,000 years in Mexican culture. It’s a time when we remember and honor loved ones who have passed. While some may think this holiday is a gloomy one, it is the complete opposite. It’s a celebration that takes place over the course of two days and involves many rich cultural elements that will vary depending on the region of Mexico.

Nuevo Leon mural
Nuevo Leon mural; photo by Roxy Delgado

As a first-generation Mexican American born and raised in the city of Chicago, Day of the Dead has always been my favorite holiday. To me it symbolizes unity. It is a time when I connect with my cultural identity – my Mexican roots and traditions – at home with my family through the most significant piece of this holiday, the altar.

Without a doubt, the altar is a staple to Día de los Muertos. Typically built at home or in cemeteries, altars are intended to be an offering to the spirits that visit within the two days. The first day honors children who have passed and the next day commemorates adults. Common items you will find on the altars include, photographs of deceased loved ones, the iconic marigold flowers that are traditionally meant to guide the spirits to the offering with their strong aroma, water to quench the spirits thirst after a long journey from the afterlife, and sweet bread for the spirits to enjoy. Individuals also like to personalize the altar by including their loved one’s favorite toys, foods, beverages, and other unique items of significance.

Day of the Dead exhibit at the National Museum of Mexican Art
Day of the Dead exhibit at the National Museum of Mexican Art; photo by Roxy Delgado

For as long as I can remember, every year my family and I begin preparations for this celebration in the spring by planting several pots of marigolds, or “cempasuchitles” in Spanish. When the holiday arrives, the whole family comes together to cut all the marigold flowers — that have fully blossomed at this point and smell amazing — and begin to create our offering. We listen to music, enjoy food, do arts and crafts, and reminisce about memories with loved ones that we believe are spiritually present celebrating that moment with us. To us, this holiday is a beautiful way to celebrate both life and death.

While it originated in Mexico, today Day of the Dead is celebrated throughout Latin America and beyond. If you are looking to get a glimpse of the holiday in Chicago, explore the Day of the Dead activities, events, and celebrations taking place this year in Chicago’s Little Village and Pilsen, two Chicago neighborhoods with large Mexican-American communities.

Explore Day of the Dead events in Chicago

Dia de los Muertos at the National Museum of Mexican Art
Dia de los Muertos at the National Museum of Mexican Art

Día de Muertos, Living Presence
Now through Dec. 10, 2023
Now in its 37th year, this exhibit at the National Museum of Mexican Art showcases Day of the Dead as an act of grieving and an annual celebration of life. You can experience the museum filled with a collection of altars and artwork that pays tribute to the lives of lost loved ones from around the world.
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Día de los Muertos Xicágo in Pilsen
Oct. 28, 2023
This free event brings live music, art activities, and colorful memorial altars to the National Museum of Mexican Art and the surrounding park. Enjoy an afternoon immersed in this annual cultural celebration.
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Brookfield Zoo Dia de los Muertos
Oct. 28 – 29
Animal lovers can revel in a truly unique experience at Brookfield Zoo’s Dia de los Muertos celebration
. Enjoy live music and thrilling activities, including face painting, crafting sugar skulls, and photo opportunities with the iconic catrinas, the traditional skeleton characters.
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Carrera de los Muertos
Oct. 28
Every autumn, the streets of historic Pilsen come alive with the spirit of Día de los Muertos. Carrera de los Muertos, which translates to Race of the Dead, has been a tradition for 16 years. The 5k participants, whether runners or walkers, can expect a sea of colorful costumes, lively entertainment, and delicious food, all against the backdrop of the rich cultural tapestry that defines Day of the Dead.
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Maxwell Street Market in Chicago’s Near West Side

Annual Día de los Muertos/Halloween Celebration at Maxwell Street Market
Oct. 29, 2023
Come celebrate Day of the Dead at this long-running outdoor market. You’ll find live music and dance performances, art activities like craft workshop, photo booth, face painting, and a community ofrenda.
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Día de los Muertos at 360 Chicago
Nov. 3, 2023
Celebrate Day of the Dead from the 94th floor of a lakefront skyscraper during this 360 CHICAGO event. Dance, sing, enjoy authentic Mexican cuisine and special performances, and enjoy the stunning views.
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Día de los Muertos: Love Never Dies Ball

Nov. 4, 2023
The National Museum of Mexican art cordially invites you to a special celebration that honors life and the spirits of los muertos. Indulge in delicious culinary treats from some of Chicago’s best restaurants, sip on delicious adult beverages, and dance the night away to live music.
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Check out more Day of the Dead events in Chicago

Experience Chicago’s Day of the Dead traditions

Pan de Muertos
Pan de Muertos; photo by Roxy Delgado

Day of the Dead Mural in Little Village
In 2019, Nuevo Leon Restaurant worked alongside graffiti artist Elizabeth “Liz” Reyes to create the largest Day of the Mural in Little Village titled Celebrando Comunidad. As you are participating in the celebrations taking place in the community, I highly recommend stopping by and checking out the bold colors and incredible Day of the Dead details in artwork.

Pilsen’s giant Day of the Dead Ofrenda
Pilsen resident Isabel Hernandez created her own ofrenda on 19th Street between Throop and Loomis. The display, which stands over 15 feet tall, honors the passed loved ones from the Pilsen community. With over 250 pictures displayed, this altar is a must-see in Pilsen.

Shop Day of the Dead accessories
When celebrating Dia de los Muertos, one of the most cherished aspects is the creation of the ofrenda, or altar, adorned with vibrant and meaningful accessories. This year, consider adding more significance to your celebration by shopping locally for your altar decorations. Here are some of my personal favorite shops in Little Village.

Try pan de muertos (Day of the Dead sweet bread)
During this celebration, pan de muertos is a must! Whether it is to be placed on an altar or to be enjoyed with a hot chocolate, below are some of my favorite bakeries where you can shop for a variety of Day of the Dead sweetbread.