Day of the Dead

Supported by BP, a major free event at the British Museum 

Join the Fiesta!
Sunday 1 November 2009 11.00—17.00
Venues across the Museum
Admission free

On Sunday 1 November the British Museum will host a special celebration of the Day of the Dead; an annual Mexican festival where families gather to remember the dead. The British Museum will present an engaging programme of performance, processions, storytelling, displays and much more.

The origins of this celebration can be traced back at least 3000 years among Mexico’s pre-Hispanic indigenous cultures. Contemporary festivals reflect a blend of native traditions and Catholic beliefs. These include building private altars, honouring the dead using sugar skulls, marigolds and the favourite foods and beverages of the deceased, and visiting graves with these as gifts.

There will be two key moments during the day when a vibrant procession of performers, musicians, dancers and Museum visitors will travel through the Museum. The performers will be dressed in carnival-style costumes made to look like skeletons and Katrinas (Lady Death) made of papel maché and featuring papel picado (paper cutouts which Mexicans use to decorate the graves of their family and friends and their homes, streets and shops at festival times).

In addition to the processions, a mixture of music and dance performances will take place in the Great Court throughout the day and stiltwalkers will perform on the colonnade. A Day of the Dead ofrenda (altar) will have been made by Mexican artist Adriana Amaya in the Great Court with the help of children joining in the half-term activities in the week running up to this celebration. Adriana will also be giving demonstrations of paper cutting during the event.

Family activities will focus on making items of props and costume for the processions, with professional artists leading the workshops. There will also be a team of facepainters so that children can have traditional ‘skeleton’ faces for the processions. In addition storytelling will be given by master storytellers Ben Haggarty and Tuup, and there will be a skeleton trail through the galleries for families to follow.

For adults and older families there will be a number of Gallery talks exploring attitudes towards life and death in different cultures. Food writer and TV presenter Stefan Gates will speak about his experience of Day of the Dead during the filming of his ‘Feast’ series for BBC4 and the author Chloe Sayer will give an introduction to the traditions of Day of the Dead. The Paul Hamlyn Library will be displaying a volume of the Kingsborough Codex, a nine volume collection of pre-Hispanic and colonial Mesoamerican facsimiles commissioned by Viscount Kingsborough in 1831. A workshop for adults on pictograms will also take place here to accompany the Codex, followed by a Mexican themed storytelling for adults later in
the afternoon.

Food and drink will be another important element of the day with both the Great Court Cafes and stalls selling delicious Mexican street food such as nachos with guacamole, salsa, chillis and cheese, mixed burritos, traditional tachos, sweet corn, churros (Mexican donuts) with a chocolate dip and Mexican beverages such as frozen Margaritas, Negra Mondelo beer, chilli hot chocolate and various
flavours of fanta.

The exhibitions Moctezuma: Aztec Ruler and Revolution on Paper: Mexican Prints will also be open for visitors (tickets for Moctezuma: Aztec Ruler are subject to availability – admission charge applies).

If you would like to attend or film on the day please contact Esme Wilson on 020 7323 8394 /

To print:
For more information please contact the British Museum on 020 7323 8000 / 8299 or

Notes to Editors

  • BP is the British Museum’s largest and most longstanding corporate sponsor, supporting the Museum on an annual basis since 1998. Most recently, BP supported the major exhibition
    Hadrian: Empire and Conflict.