Aurora’s ‘Sugar Skull City’ in honor of the Day of the Dead among the suburbs Halloween shows

Brightly painted shop windows and intricate storefronts have transformed downtown Aurora into what organizers call “Sugar Skull City,” celebrating a traditional Mexican holiday that reunites the living and the dead.

For years, the city has done a great job of celebrating the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and hosting a range of cultural activities at a downtown festival that typically attracts thousands of people, said Marissa Amoni, manager of the nonprofit Aurora Downtown.

For 30 days, intricate works of art adorn shop windows like the Hercules Gallery of Hair in downtown Aurora as part of the city’s transformation into “Sugar Skull City” in honor of the Mexican tradition of “Day of the Dead”.
– Brian Hill | Employee photographer

But the COVID-19 pandemic forced organizers to re-imagine the event, she said, prompting a 30-day celebration starting Thursday of festive artwork, self-guided tours, business promotions, virtual content and a socially distant scavenger hunt.

“There is a lot to do,” said Amoni, “and 30 days to do it, it will be a fun thing for people and they don’t really have to worry about the crowds.”

While artwork with sugar skulls by local artists adorns downtown Aurora, Halloween displays are popping up in other parts of the suburbs, including the home of West Dundee-based Myke Kustief, whose elaborate decorations have been a focal point in her neighborhood for years.

The Halloween exhibition at 502 S. Second St. has been a focal point of a West Dundee neighborhood for years.

The Halloween exhibition at 502 S. Second St. has been a focal point of a West Dundee neighborhood for years.
– John Starks | Employee photographer

In Mexican culture, the Day of the Dead is celebrated immediately after Halloween on November 1st and 2nd, when families gather to welcome visiting spirits of deceased relatives. House altars, each known as the ofrenda, are often decorated with wreaths, crosses, skeletons, photos, lights, and flowers to honor loved ones.

Under the direction of Event Director Jose Torres, the Aurora Celebrations began as a small family celebration and grew into a community-wide event with a street party, fashion show, and other offerings from participating companies and venues. Even in its new format this year, the purpose of the event will remain the same.

West Dundee-based Myke Kustief's house and ornate decorations have been a focal point in the neighborhood for years.

West Dundee-based Myke Kustief’s house and ornate decorations have been a focal point in the neighborhood for years.
– John Starks | Employee photographer

“It really honors the tradition of the Day of the Dead and what Jose Torres started 11 years ago,” said Amoni. “It will be an extension of these activities.”

Sugar Skull City, which runs through November 15, is set to highlight Mexican restaurants and bakeries, as well as the various Latin American businesses in Aurora, Amoni said. Restaurants and shops offer specialty goods and menu items, and a self-guided walking tour and scavenger hunt take visitors through the city center.

West Dundee-based Myke Kustief's house and ornate decorations have been a focal point in the neighborhood for years.

West Dundee-based Myke Kustief’s house and ornate decorations have been a focal point in the neighborhood for years.
– John Starks | Employee photographer

On the Aurora Downtown website, attendees can access a tutorial on making sugar skulls, a video of an Aztec dance ceremony, downloadable coloring pages, and instructions on how to enter an ofrenda competition at home. The celebration also coincides with Aurora’s first Friday event on November 6th.

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