Children decorated sugar skulls and visited an altar honoring great Kansas Citians who have died. Giant marionette skeletons danced among marigolds and flames.
It was all part of a kid-friendly celebration of the Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos — Day of the Dead — Sunday afternoon at the Kansas City Museum.
The holiday picnic, hosted by the museum along with the Mattie Rhodes Center, featured performances by Stone Lion Puppet Theatre and the Latin music band Mundo Nuovo, face painting by Sister Act and lawn games with KC Crew. Organized in advance of the Nov. 1-2 holiday, Sunday’s event focused on giving kids a chance to connect with Mexican heritage and enjoy the diverse culture of Kansas City’s Northeast neighborhood, said Paul Gutierrez, director of recreation at the museum.
“It’s really geared toward kids,” Gutierrez said of Sunday’s event, which was held early to give space to other celebrations, such as the Nov. 6 Día de los Muertos festival at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
“I would say to the kids, it’s about connecting with your ancestors who passed away,” Gutierrez said.
Traditionally a lively, colorful festival, Día de los Muertos celebrates the lives of the dead and comes with its own style of art steeped in themes of life and death. The holiday emerged from a blend of indigenous Mexican traditions and Catholic holidays brought by Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century.
Prominent among the symbols of the holiday are monarch butterflies — for their seasonal migrations that call to mind the circle of life — and marigolds, whose smell is said to bring the spirits of the dead back for the celebration.
For young children interested in the holiday, Gutierrez recommends the 2014 Disney film “The Book of Life,” which tells the story of three Mexican youths navigating life challenges both natural and supernatural.
Sunday’s event was the third annual celebration held jointly by the museum and the Mattie Rhodes Center, which has been organizing Día de los Muertos events for 18 years.
Among the people lined up for the festival Sunday was Reneé Estrada, a Northeast neighborhood native who brought her 10-year-old daughter. The holiday is important to her family, Estrada said.
“I’m trying to keep my daughter in touch with our heritage,” Estrada said. “As you get older, you lose more people who are important to you. And it’s important to honor them and the memories they gave to you.”