October 27, 2021

Arts Council Expands Tradition Celebrating Dia de los Muertos

HONORING THE DEAD: The holiday Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) has become a colorful tradition at the Arts Council of Princeton. Several free community events are planned for this year’s commemoration.

By Anne Levin

There are some who consider Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, a Mexican version of Halloween. But the two autumn observances —  Halloween on October 31, Dia de los Muertos on November 1 and 2 — couldn’t vary more in spirit.

While they share a theme of death, Halloween is all about mischief–making, grisliness, darkness, and of course, sweet treats. The Mexican holiday is a joyous celebration of life and death, honoring those who have passed with vibrantly colored costumes, parties, parades, and offerings.

Marking the holiday has become a tradition at the Arts Council of Princeton (ACP). This year’s commemorations have grown in scope.

“The Arts Council of Princeton is honored to have hosted our community’s Dia de los Muertos celebrations for more than 20 years,” said ACP Artistic Director Maria Evans in a press release. “This year is extra special. We’ve expanded our offerings to include something for everyone — all ages, interests, and backgrounds.”

While Dia de los Muertos originated in Mexico, it is celebrated all over Latin America and in the United States. In 2008, UNESCO recognized the importance of the observance by adding it to its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Evans singled out the Torres-Olivares family for their work preparing the festivities. Every year, they “make hundreds of sugar skulls, design and build our ofrenda (altar), and help plan the event,” she said.

Celebrations begin at the ACP, 102 Witherspoon Street, on Thursday, October 28 with a free, in-person, family-friendly screening of Sugar Skull!, a bilingual, bicultural theater experience from McCarter Theatre that features musicians and dancers and is appropriate for ages 3 and up.

Next, on Tuesday, November 2 from 7 to 8:30 p.m., Trent Barnes, postdoctoral fellow in Princeton University’s Program in Latin American Studies, delivers a free lecture, “Indigienous Influences on Dia de los Muertos in Mexico.” Barnes’ research explores the art and architecture of Teotihuacan. Register at artscouncilof

A big community celebration is set for Saturday, November 6 from 3-5 p.m. at the Arts Council. Strolling mariachis, sugar skull decorating, folk arts and crafts, and a performance by Grupo de Danza Folklorica La Sagrada Familia are on the schedule, along with food.

New this year is a public art installation at Dohm Alley on Nassau Street. Symbols of the holiday and traditional folk arts will be on display, with explanations of what each item represents. And throughout the month of November, an ofrenda will be installed for those who want to honor the memory of a lost loved one by adding a relic or favorite item.

“Altars are the most prominent feature in the celebration because they show the souls the way to their home,” reads the release. “Traditions vary by region — the Arts Council’s altar features seven levels, each representing the seven heavenly virtues: faith, hope, charity, prudence, temperance, justice, and courage.”

Visit artscouncilofprinceton.org for a full schedule and more information.