October 15, 2015
You might know Oct. 31 as Halloween, but in Mexico it kicks off the wacky, mythical Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, celebration. It’s a holiday for frolicking and revelry to celebrate those who have passed on and includes parties at gravesites, elaborate altar decorating, dancing, feasting and skull-shaped candies.
If you can’t travel to Mexico, you can always have an immersive Mexican experience at home by taking a "staycation." Try out some of the activities below with the whole family to learn more about Mexican culture and get the full holiday experience.
Kick off your cultural exploration with an all-out Day of the Dead celebration at your choice of three iconic Philly museums. On Halloween from noon to 4 p.m. (you’ll get home in time for trick-or-treating), the Penn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology hosts its annual Día de los Muertos extravaganza, complete with altar making, Mexican puppetry, dance performances and live music. The event is held in cooperation with Philadelphia’s Mexican Cultural Center.
Or try the notoriously spooky Mütter Museum, home of the largest collection of books bound in human skin and an exhibit on Albert Einstein’s brain. Every day is like a day for the dead at the Mütter, so their Halloween/Dia de los Muertos festivities will be a real treat.
Not to be outdone, the Philadelphia Museum of Art hosts performances and activities honoring Mexican Day of the Dead Nov. 1, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. All festivities are free with museum admission.
- Did You Know?
- Marigolds symbolize Day of the Dead. It’s believed their pungent scent and sunny color guide the way for spirits to return to feast on their favorite foods and visit loved ones.
The Philly region is getting richer with more choices for Mexican fare, so this is the month to seek it out and encourage the kids to go beyond tortilla chips. No-frills, authentic taco king El Limon from Conshohocken now boasts new spots in Malvern, Ardmore and Bryn Mawr. Staying in the city? Don't miss this guide to South Philly taco spots.
As the mushroom capital of the world, Kennett Square is home to a large community of Mexican workers who have enlivened the culture of this sleepy town. There’s an annual Mexican festival around Cinco de Mayo, but any time of year you can enjoy renowned culinary favorites in the neighborhood.
Panaderia Hermanos Lara (Lara Brothers Bakery) makes delicious tres leches cake and the popular La Michoacana shop creates Mexican ice cream and trendy popsicles. (Ask for samples before ordering flavors like corn, avocado, or cinnamon. Daring diners can top a scoop with a sprinkle of chili powder!) And La Pena's al pastor tacos (pork shoulder with pineapple roasted on a spit like shawarma) are beloved.
As a post-meal activity, visit nearby Longwood Gardens and look for native Mexican plants like the varieties of salvia described on Longwood’s blog.
Cap an authentic Mexican meal with a movie or show from Mexico. For the whole family, we love "Alamar," a documentary-style film featuring a father and son sailing, fishing and co-existing with Mexico’s great coral reef.
My personal favorite, Sprout’s new series "Nina’s World" (for which I am a cultural consultant) features a Mexican-American family and many cultural vignettes. Or watch a soccer game on Spanish TV, a familiar scene at local Mexican restaurants. GOOOOOOOOOOLLLLL!!
Generally, I think Spanish is the most important second language for Americans to learn. Most library cards (see, for example, Free Library of Philadelphia, Camden County and Chester County) give you access to free online language lessons, through programs like Mango Languages. Or try these 20 games and apps for kids to learn Spanish.
You might find mariachi singers and dancers on your journey, but you don’t have to wait for a performance to start dancing to a wide range of Mexican music! Putumayo’s Mexico CD offers a great starting sample of diverse genres.
After celebrating Mexico with the whole family, adults can venture to International House Philadelphia for the New Middle East Film Festival, Oct. 26-29. Get beyond the headlines for a bird’s-eye view of life in the Middle East, from Israel to Iran to Syria and Morocco. Curated films are introduced by experts from each country and admission is free – so you can pay for your babysitter. Or you can pair each film with a meal from that country!