National Museum of the American Indian Marks Day of the Dead with Celebration

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian is celebrating the Latin American holiday Días de los Muertos (Days of the Dead) with a free two-day family event Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 20–21, 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. each day at the museum. The event will feature hands-on activities for adults and children, take-home crafts, demonstrations and performances that reflect traditions associated with this holiday.

Días de los Muertos celebrates the cycle of life and death, which has been observed in Meso- America since before the arrival of the Spanish. Associated primarily with Mexico, Días de los Muertos is now a tradition for many other peoples in South America, as well as some Native American and several Mexican-American communities in the United States. It is believed that during Días de los Muertos the souls of the dead return to visit the living and this is cause for celebration.

Common holiday festivities include setting up ofrendas—an altar used to display portraits, foods, special possessions and memories of a loved one. Throughout the weekend, visitors can visit and observe four ofrendas on display: the museum’s community ofrenda, a contemporary art ofrenda, a traditional Oaxacan ofrenda and a Bolivian ofrenda. In addition, there will be hands-on activities in the imagiNATIONS Activity Center for customary Day of the Dead crafts, such as papel picado (paper cut-outs) and plaster skull demonstrations from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the Potomac Atrium. Family crafts consist of decorating plaster skulls and making papel picado and paper marigolds from 10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. in the imagiNATIONS Activity Center.

Visitors can learn the history and art of making paper-mache calavera or skull sculptures with artist Roberta LoPiccolo (Mexica) and then go to the imagiNATIONS Activity Center to make their own from 1 to 4:30 p.m. There will also be a presentation of the Oaxacan ofrenda by artist Lucina Flores (Mexica), who will discuss her creation and the cultural importance of ofrendas in the Oaxaca region of Mexico from 10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. and again from 1 to 4:30 p.m. in the Potomac Atrium. A special contemporary ofrenda presentation and papel picado demonstration led by artist Tlisza Jaurique (Mexica/Yaqui/Basque/Xicana) will take place from 10:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. again from 2 to 4:30 p.m. in the Potomac Atrium.

Additional activities scheduled for both days include cooking demonstrations by the Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe’s staff at 11:30 a.m. in the Akaloa outdoor fire pit, weather permitting, of Day of the Dead foods, including mole and tortillas, as well as performances of the Dance of the Jaguars (La Danza de los Tecuanes) by the dynamic dance group Los Tecuanes at 12 and 2:30 p.m. in the Potomac Atrium. Visitors are also invited to help paint a public Días de los Muertos mural with painter Marcus Zilliox (Mexica) from 10:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. and again from 2 to 4:30 p.m. in the Potomac Atrium. On exhibit will be a Días de los Muertos alfombras de aserrín, a traditional, colorful sawdust carpet created by Ubaldo Sanchez (Maya/Mam). Throughout the weekend, the Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe will also offer a special Meso-American menu.

This program received funding from the Smithsonian Latino Center. For updates and more information, visit