Day of the Dead | Family events celebrating art and ancestors

By Emma Ryder

A collection of folk mask from the UMFA’s Education Collection.

More masks can be seen at the Discovery Gateway throughout October.



During the Mexican celebration of Day of the Dead, families gather to celebrate their loved ones who have died.  They cook favorite foods, presenting them on an oferanda, or altar.  The food is to nourish the souls who have journeyed back to Earth, starting with the angelitos, the souls of the children, on November 1.  The souls of departed adults make their journey on November 2.  Families gather with their communities to celebrate death.

Skulls are used throughout Day of the Dead rituals.  Sugar skulls are placed on the oferandas as a treat for weary souls.  The living participants wear makeup or masks that have become ubiquitous across the globe in connection with the holiday.  Some dress to mock death, others to embrace it.  Beautiful women make themselves up to look like skulls of lace, with sunken black eyes traced by curlicues and delicate flourishes.  Women’s heads will be topped in fine, wide brimmed hats or crowns of flowers, men will wear top hats and carry canes.  They are embodying the Calavera Catrina, The Dapper Skeleton, and gathering together to celebrate the dead.

The origin of skulls in Day of the Dead celebration date back to ancient Aztec festival which honored the goddess Michtecacihuatl of Lady of the Dead, Queen of Mictlan (the underworld).  The skull has stayed the icon for honoring death in Mexico despite colonial rule.

The Utah Museum of Fine Arts (UMFA) is holding four events this October to teach more about masks and give attendents the opportunity to make one of their own.  All events are for the family, just as the celebration inspiring them is a family affair.

-Emma Ryder

Reminder: The Utah Museum of Fine Arts building is closed for renovation but activities continue at other locations throughout the city.

All of October: Masks! @ Discovery Gateway, Beverley Taylor Sorenson ArtSpace for Children.  Have you ever worn a mask?  How did it make you feel? Masks are incredible faces, diverse and dynamic, that express different ideas, beliefs and feelings from around the world.  this month, the UMFA will exhibit a broad collection of masks from their education collection.  explore the purpose and meaning of masks from many cultures–imagine what it would be like to become one of the many faces you see.

Oct 15: Third Saturday for Families, Dia de los Muertos Masks @ Beverly Taylor Sorenson Arts & Education Complex, University of Utah. 1-4p. Free. 1720 Campus Center Dr.

Oct 22: Dia de los Muertos Masks @ Discovery Gateway. 11a-1p and 2-4p. Free. 444 W. 100 S.

Oct 24: Mask Making Family Activity @ SLC Public Library, Day-Riverside Branch. 2-3:30p. Free. 1575 W. 1000 N.

Oct 29: Day of the Dead Celebration @ Utah Cultural Celebration Center. Noon-6p. $5 (under 12 & students with ID free). 1355 W. 3100 S., WVC.

This article was originally published on October 12, 2016.