Latino Life in Philly

Skeleton bike riding, face painting, mariachi, and tacos: How to celebrate Día de los Muertos in Philly

The holiday brings together a mix of indigenous and colonial Mexican traditions.

Fleisher Art Memorial's annual festival in 2019

Fleisher Art Memorial's annual festival in 2019

Justin Mayer / Fleisher Art Memorial
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Día de los Muertos is celebrated in Philadelphia as a way to connect across cultures, with artwork, food, dancing and music.

In Mexican tradition, the holiday’s mix of indigenous and colonial traditions brings generations together as it commemorates the souls of deceased loved ones briefly returning to the world of the living and visiting their families

“Sharing our traditions can help bring everyone together,” Dionicio Jimenez, chef-owner of Cantina la Martina in Kensington, told Billy Penn. “There is a lot of violence in the city that people are desensitized to. Celebrating the Day of the Dead gives a moment to reflect and honor our loved ones who have died.”

It dates back to the time of the Nahuali and Aztecs, who used to spend a month honoring their goddess of death Mictecacihuatl. When Spanish conquistadors began colonizing Mexico in the 1500s and evangelizing the region, the holiday took on a similar meaning to the Catholic holiday All Souls Day, where people pray for those in purgatory.

The holiday “is based on remembering our ancestors, the people who influenced our lives, but who are no longer physically with us,” said Ivette Compean, the executive director of Philadelphia’s Mexican Cultural Center.

Celebrations officially begin with Día de los Angelitos, when the spirits of children reunite with their families. Meant to be a joyful take on mourning, the holiday is traditionally marked by elaborate graveyard picnics, colorful papel picado, and sentimental oferendas, or altars decorated with offerings for the spirits, like their favorite foods, marigold flowers, and family photos.

The Mexican Cultural Center is collaborating with Penn Museum to host its annual culture fest, an event that uses food and music and dance performances to teach about the holiday and Mexican culture overall.

“The events we hold are for people to have fun and get to know a little more about Mexico,” Compean said. “[They] let us at least sow a small seed of curiosity about our traditions, culture and art.”

Chef Jimenez, who immigrated to Philadelphia from Mexico in 1998, hopes his event brings a sense of community to Philly overall, not just the Mexican community. There will be an altar at Cantina la Martina where community members can leave photographs and other objects to honor their loved ones.

Looking for ways to honor your loved ones or celebrate the holiday? Read on for five Día de los Muertos events in Philly.

An offrenda at the Mexican Cultural Center in 2021

An offrenda at the Mexican Cultural Center in 2021

Mexican Cultural Center

Día de los Muertos culture fest

Penn Museum, 3620 South St.

10 a.m to 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29

Eat pan de muerto, the sweet “bread of the dead,” and sip Mexican hot chocolate at this daylong festival featuring musical and dance performances, an artisan market, and an ofrenda curated by local artists Julieta Zavala and Mauro Carrera. The museum and Mexican Cultural Center are also hosting a community altar contest, where members can submit photos of their creations.

Cost: Included with admission — $18 for adults and $13 for children over age 5

Día de los Muertos celebration and procession

Fleisher Art Memorial, 719 Catharine St.

2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29

Join Fleisher’s 10th annual procession and celebration as the art center leads community members on a march through 8th street to the Cheesesteak Vegas intersection with Passyunk and back up 9th Street in South Philly to a craft market and festival. This year’s theme is the Legend of El Dorado and La Balsa Muisca (the Music Raft), so expect lots of gold-accented wares to go with elaborate face painting and dance performances.

Cost: Free

Mariachi band at Cantina la Martina

Mariachi band at Cantina la Martina

Courtesy Cantina la Martina

Día de Los Muertos celebración de la vida

Cantina la Martina, 2800 D Sthttps://www.instagram.com/p/CjyfEp2M65C/.

4 to 10 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 2

Spend an evening listening to the musical stylings of the Mariachi Ángeles and other Mexican folk bands at Dionicio Jimenez’s inaugural Día de los Muertos celebration. The event riffs on Catrina, a skeleton woman in French-esque attire associated with the holiday, with a costume competition, traditional dance performances, and the launch of their fall drink menu.

Cost: Free to enter, food and drinks pay as you go

Day of the Dead bike ride

1084 Washington Ave.

Sunday, Oct. 30, 10:00 a.m to 1:00 p.m

Grab your bike, practice your best skull face makeup, and join the Better Bike Share partnership and the Mexican Cultural Center for a ride across Philly. Don’t have your own? Rent one for the trip: The group meets at the Indego station on Washington Avenue, and ends at LOVE Park. There you’ll see the Center’s public ofrenda installation from artist Ivonne Pinto García. Guests are encouraged to come in their skeleton-inspired best.

Cost: Free

Drinks specials at Cantina la Martina

Drinks specials at Cantina la Martina

Courtesy Cantina la Martina

Taco celebration

Rosy’s Taco Bar, 2220 Walnut St.

Oct. 27-30 and Nov. 2

Día de los Muertos at this Rittenhouse tavern brings spiked horchatas and free face painting. Also look for themed-drink specials from Crystal Head Vodka and merch giveaways.

Cost: Free to enter, booze and bites pay as you go