Day of the Dead Exhibit

detail of top of ceramic tree of life candelabra with day of the dead theme.

Day of the Dead

The Peabody Museum's Day of the Dead ofrenda or altar is located in the Encounters With the Americas gallery. Scroll down for links to a 360°  view of the altar, more about the holiday's origins and traditions, videos, events, and the K–12 program.

The Peabody Museum's exhibition of a Day of the Dead ofrenda or altar is located in the Encounters With the Americas gallery. The exhibit features pieces from the Alice P. Melvin Collection of Mexican Folk Art and represents the Aztec origins of the holiday and the Catholic symbols incorporated into the tradition, from skeletons to plush Jesus figures.

ceramic day of the dead tree of life candelabra.

three people look into day of the dead altar.

The altar is contained within a box covered with panels that were decorated by local students and regional and international artists. The altars were designed by the Peabody exhibitions staff and Mexican artists Mizael Sanchez and Monica Martinez. 

Originating with the Aztecs, the Mexican Day of the Dead is a unique blend of Mesoamerican and Christian rituals. The holiday, which is celebrated on November 1, All Saints’ Day, is usually dedicated to children; November 2, All Souls’ Day, is dedicated to adults.

day of the dead skeleton dog figurine.

day of the dead altar with open doors.

Traditions vary from region to region, but generally families gather at cemeteries to tend and decorate the graves of their departed loved ones and remember them by telling stories, eating their favorite foods, and dancing in their honor. Many families build altars at home, decorated with flowers and food, especially pan de muerto or “bread of the dead.” A festive and social occasion, the holiday welcomes the return of those who have died and recognizes the human cycle of life and death.

See a collection of objects from the exhibit


Learn more about Day of the Dead origins and traditions: 

See more in the Muchos Méxicos: Crossroads of the Americas special exhibition.

detail of clay sculpture portrait of man surrounded by skulls.

Curated by Davíd Carrasco, Neil L. Rudenstine Professor of the Study of Latin America and Mexican artist Mizael Sanchez.

Top and lower: Day of the Dead candelabra with Tree of Life, St. Michel, and wire-attached skeleton figures, ca. 1980-1989 by Alfonso Castillo. Gift of Alice B. Melvin, in celebration of donor's father and mother, Professor A. Gordon Melvin and Lorna Strong Melvin, donor's sister, Mary Melvin Petronella, family friend, Luis Hererra Garcia, friend, Richard Paul Baydin, and donor's cats, Miss Amiga, Sir Minky, and Pyewacket, 993-24-20/27396. Day of the Dead skeleton dog figurine, ca. 2002. 2002.8.8.  Benito Juárez con Motivos Mexicanos ceramic sculpture by Carlomagno Pedro Martínez, San Bartolo Coyotepec, Oaxaca, 2017. Gift of the Governor of the State of Oaxaca Alejandro Ismael Murat Hinojosa, 2019.6.1.