During this Mexican holiday, graves are cleaned and decorated with marigolds, which are thought to attract souls. Household altars are constructed and adorned with the deceased's favorite foods. It is hoped that on this day the spirits enjoy some of the things they loved when they were alive. More than the departed themselves, The Day of the Dead commemorates the good things in life, and culminates in parties and family gatherings.
At The Museum of the American Indian's celebration, visitors can learn how to make papel picado, "paper flowers," as well as plaster skeleton figurines called calacas. These figures, icons of the holiday, are usually dressed festively and represent joy rather than grief. Other festivities include dance performances by the troupe Danza Mexica Cetiliztli Nauhcampa, storytelling by playwrights Elvira and Hortensia Colorado, an art installation, and even skulls made of sugar!
Like the Day of the Dead, the Museum of the American Indian sheds light on the past while keeping the present, living traditions of the Americas' indigenous peoples in focus. Historical objects and contemporary art are given equal space, and an exhibit on clothing and identity tracks the changing role of native women through their dresses.
As if you needed one more reason to visit, the museum building, The Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House, is a work of art itself. It was designed by Cass Gilbert, who would later plan the United States Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C. Exhibitions spread out in rooms around the main rotunda, a gorgeous beaux-arts style Roman dome illustrated with murals by Reginald Marsh and illuminated from above by a giant skylight.
A final incentive? This being a part of the Smithsonian, admission to The National Museum of the American Indian is free.