Dia de Los Muertos also known as ‘the day of the dead’, is one of the largest celebrated events in Mexico. A festival that celebrates both life and death that can easily be recognised globally by its colourful Calaveras (skulls) and Calacas (skeletons). Unlike other countries where death is mourned and associated with sadness, Dia de Los Muertos represents the Mexican and other Latin American nations' way of celebrating the lives of their deceased friends and family. This is one of Mexico’s most vibrant and colourful holidays and is supposedly the best time to visit and we’re about to tell you why!
History of Dia De Los Muertos 💀
This infamous Mexican holiday dates back to the Aztecs who celebrated for more than just a few days, but for an entire month! In the Aztec calendar, celebrations fell roughly at the end of the Gregorian month of July and the beginning of August. Festivities were presided over by the goddess Mictecacihuatl. The traditions of the Aztecs including; using skulls to honour the dead are still practised today in the nation, to honour and commune with those who have passed on.
After the Spanish conquered the Aztec empire in the 16th century, the traditions and the time in which this festival would take place and end. The Catholic Church moved the celebrations and rituals to the Catholic dates commemorating All Saints Day and All Souls Day on November 1 and 2. In what became known as Día de Muertos on November 2. The same happened on November 1 to honour children who had died.
Dia De Los Muertos Traditions 🌼 🌶 🇲🇽 💀 🕊️
Ofrendas - It sounds familiar right? Well, this tradition is quite simply offerings made by those celebrating! During the celebrations, people will build altars in their homes in which they will leave ofrendas for their deceased friends and family’s souls. Typically, the altars tend to be colourful shrines that have an array of their ancestor's photographs, that are lit up by the flames of flickering candles. Examples of ofrendas include; letters, poems, jokes or anecdotes read to the portraits by the family, or even offerings of traditional Mexican cuisine - tamales, tequila, chiles, water and Pan de Muerto, a special bread made especially for this day. These beautiful altars are lined with vivid orange and yellow marigolds as, their fragrance aids to guide the souls of their loved ones home.
Sugar Skulls - Sugar skulls each represent a departed soul. On the day of the dead, sugar skulls are one of the main representations of the celebration and cover practically every surface. The population paint and decorat the clay skulls with feathers, foil and icing, and write the name of the deceased across its forehead. These are then placed in the homes on the altars or on the gravestones of the deceased, to honour their life and to guide their spirit home during the celebrations.
Cleaning Headstones - Before celebrations commence, families and friends who have lost their loved ones go to the cemeteries of the deceased and clean their graves/headstones. This helps them to prepare for their spirit to come during festivities. Just like with the altars in their homes, they take food to the cemetery to attract the spirits and to share in a community celebration. In addition to the ofrendas, bands perform and people dance to please the visiting souls.
How To Experience Mexico’s Day Of The Dead ✈️ 🇲🇽
If you’re jetting out to Mexico at the end of October, then you are in for a real treat of experiencing the 2,500-year-old traditions. If you want to indulge in a light-hearted version of the afterlife then be sure to not get the holiday confused with that of traditional Halloween celebrations. The two holidays are distinctly different and Dia De Los Muertos is deeply rooted in the entire population of Mexico’s culture and way of life.
Families celebrate in their homes privately during this holiday, however, when touring the stunning country that is Mexico, there is a number of public displays that take place for your enjoyment. As long as tourists respect the traditions and practices of that time, many Mexicans won’t mind your presence in the cemeteries and other public spaces where Mexicans celebrate and honour their deceased.
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The Best Places In Mexico For Dia De Los Muertos 🎉 🇲🇽
Oaxaca - Traditionally, The Day of the Dead celebrations are associated with southern Mexico, rather than the north, and one of the best places to see the festivities first-hand is in the cultural centre of Oaxaca. There is no holding back when it comes to festivities in this city. There are a number of colourful markets here that tourists can explore the day before the event begins. Here tourists will find locals and tourists alike buying everything from Pan de Muerto to other ofrendas that will be placed upon the homemade altars.
Every street in Oaxaca is lined with a parade or party, with hundreds of people celebrating with painted faces and in bright beautiful clothing. A trip to Oaxaca for the Day of the Dead is one of the most local cultural experiences you can have in Mexico.
Janitzio - If you’re looking for the most authentic Day of the Dead experience in Mexico, then travel to Janitzio, where you’ll find that traditions have changed little over the centuries.
Here tourists can celebrate alongside the local indigenous groups. Fishermen in their rowboats light lanterns on the water that surrounds this small isolated island, cemeteries fill with people and become hubs for traditional activities and, families and friends who live here celebrate with food, drink and traditional music.
Riviera Maya - Mexico’s top tourist destination where you will find sun-washed beaches and beautiful resorts. Despite it being packed with tourists, Riviera Maya has its own wonderful cultural stronghold when it comes to Mayan traditions, and therefore a fantastic place to celebrate the Day of the Dead in Mexico. The biggest celebration on the Riviera Maya goes down at Xcaret, the iconic theme park and biosphere that’s an adventure playground for tourists. For the Day of the Dead, Xcaret transforms itself to host parades, cultural performances and even workshops that allow you to learn more about the festival, its history and traditions than you can’t get anywhere else in Mexico.
Disney’s Coco 🇲🇽 🎥
If you haven’t seen it already, Disney Pixar's animated film Coco is one of its most successful films to date and is a brilliant representation and way to educate yourself on Mexican culture and traditions surrounding Dia De Los Muertos! The Mexican traditions in "Coco" are not only accurate; they are also crafted with genuine enthusiasm and appreciation for the culture of Mexico itself, built organically from real-life experience. This film is a brilliant way to understand the traditions and celebrations that take place in Mexico and is a great way to educate your children!
“People are really dead when you forget about them, and if you think about them, they are alive in your mind, they are alive in your heart,” - Mary J. Andrade