Every year, Aquilez Sanchez makes the trip to the Peabody Museum to ring in Day of the Dead festivities.
On Sunday, he and his daughter Aracelly stood admiring a colorful alter adorned with skulls and flowers and battery-powered tea lights on the Harvard museum’s upper floor. For a family with Mexican roots, it’s a cultural pilgrimage, Sanchez said, and a chance for Aracelly to learn the history and customs of her ancestors from hundreds of miles away.
“I want to show her Mexican culture,” said Sanchez, who is from Venezuela but whose wife is from the northern Mexican state of Sonora. “We want her to be proud of it.”
Now in its eleventh year, the Day of the Dead celebration at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology has become a hit in Boston, both for the area’s small Mexican population and other curious swarms of families and schoolchildren.
In just four hours on Sunday, museum leaders expected 1,000 visitors — the biggest draw of the year by far for a destination that usually welcomes 40 people on Sundays, said Polly Hubbard, the museum’s educational programs manager.
“It does seem to be growing,” Hubbard said.
Spread out in the museum’s Americas wing were hand-crafted artworks, baskets of sticky Pan de Muerto and stations to sample spicy Aztec hot chocolate and paint traditional sugar skulls.
A nine-piece Mariachi band made up of Harvard students marched through all the celebratory offerings – meant to mimic the traditional jovial Day of the Dead processions to gravesites – and played to a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd of parents doting smartphones and kids taking in the action from the floor.
Featured this year were father-and-son woodcarvers Ventura and Norberto Fabian and internationally recognized painter Javier Gonzalez Rodriguez, who showcased patterned boxes and figurines in the style of his home city of Olinala, Mexico.
“People are fascinated by the traditions of other cultures,” said Andrew Majewski, a museum education specialist. “This is just an opportunity to educate people and really make them aware that other cultures have different views of life and death not in the Western tradition of mourning.”
RELATED: Best Mexican food in Boston
One altar featured crafty tributes to deceased family members from eighth-graders at the bilingual Cambridge Amigos School.
“They all liked the fact that it was all positive, not sad,” said their teacher, Annette Colon.
That mindset, that death is something to greet with a party, is part of the allure that keeps bringing people back to the Peabody, said Andrew Majewski, a museum education specialist.
“People are fascinated by the traditions of other cultures,” Majewski said. “This is just an opportunity to educate people and really make them aware that other cultures have different views of life and death not in the Western tradition of mourning.”