Talk about the Day of the Dead in Mexico is to refer to one of the most beautiful, colorful and important traditions in the Mexican culture.
This Mexican celebration takes place throughout the country and each state is different from the presentation of traditional dishes and music.
The whole family participates in this holiday, as well as friends and entire communities gather to celebrate in a very special way.
The celebration takes place on November 1st and 2nd and in recent years this colorful tradition has spread worldwide.
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What Does Day of the dead Mean
The multicolored tradition that was declared Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO is a celebration in which dead people are remembered, honored and received.
It is a celebration of life and death, wherewith humor and respect are honored the loved ones who are no longer with us.
I have to say that Day of the Dead is not Mexican Halloween, it’s a very different holiday that has been present for many years in the Mexican culture.
The origin of the day of the dead occurred long before the arrival of the Spaniards, but even in the same country, it was different on each culture, Aztec, Zapotec, Mayan, Mexica, etc.
In the Mayan culture, the soul of the people who died went to the underworld or Xibalba and they needed the help of the Xoloitzcuintle dog, a very old Mexican dog breed that helped them to cross safely.
Likewise, for the Mexica, the Xoloitzcuintle was the dog that accompanied the dead to reach the Mictlan or underworld.
Nowadays it is still different in each state in Mexico, the altars, customs, food have many variations according to their traditions.
The Altars or Ofrendas are usually in homes or cemeteries and may include several decorations that help the dead to get back home.
Photo of the deceased
The family put images of the people who are no longer with us on the altars.
The most representative flower is the Mexican Marigold or Cempasuchil from the Nahuatl Zempoalxochitl (flower of 20 petals). They are usually bright orange or yellow, their color and smell help the dead find their way home.
The sweet Pan de Muerto is a special bread made during the season and decorated with bones shaped pieces.
The deceased’s favorites dishes should be placed at the altar and even beverages like Mezcal or Tequila. The idea is they enjoy their favorite food on that special day.
The Ofrenda is also decorated with sugar, chocolate or simply decorative skulls.
Candles, copal and candle wraps are the light that serves to guide the spirit back home. Some families place a candle for each spirit, so each dead person has its own light that guides them.
The colorful Papel Picado is used in many Mexican celebrations, but for Day of the Dead, it has a special meaning. It means joy and life and creates that festive atmosphere that Mexicans have towards death.
This beautiful Mexican craft is usually bought, but it can be made by the family.
Each family creates its own altar based on their customs, traditions, and preferences.
The Cemeteries in Mexico
In many cities and towns in Mexico, the celebration takes place not only in the houses but also in the cemeteries.
People decorate the graves the same way as an altar, with flowers, candles, and food.
During the night the family members stay in the graveyard and the place becomes a beautiful and illuminated celebration.
The Best Places for Day of the Dead
Anywhere in Mexico, you can witness this fascinating tradition, but there are certain places that stand out for their beautiful decorations or events.
The best places to visit for Mexico’s Day of the Dead:
Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico City Xochimilco and Mixquic, Oaxaca.
Also, at Xcaret park located in the Riviera Maya, you can witness a beautiful celebration, Life and Death Festival in Xcaret. This event takes place every year at night after enjoying the park activities throughout the day.
In those places, celebrations are big events that attract many national and international tourists.
In Michoacan and the State of Mexico, an offering is made to receive the monarch butterflies, who arrive every year from Canada during the celebration of the day of the dead. There is a legend that says the souls travel on the butterfly wings for this festival.
But as I said in each region of the country the celebration is different, in Yucatan takes place a very beautiful Mayan festival, Hanal Pixán (Food of the Souls).
The altars are filled with traditional food, fruits, liquor, regional sweets, water, candles and decorated with embroidered tablecloths made by the women.
Prayers are held while the food is hot, and nobody can eat anything of the altar until the prayers are over.
In Pomuch, Campeche there is an unusual tradition that has been done for many years.
Families dig up their dead to clean their bones and await their arrival, the bones are cleaned and placed in a wooden box with a new embroidered tablecloth.
The bodies must remain at least three years without touching, but after that time every year, they perform this act with love and respect.
Celebrating Día de Muertos in Mexico City
In recent years, Mexico City has become an amazing place to visit in Día de Muertos. The city is a bright celebration filled with Catrinas, skulls, art, color, and music.
A Mega Ofrenda, Alebrijes Parade, Catrinas Parade, Day of the Dead Grand Parade, Mexicraneos and more.
Hundreds of people collaborate to enjoy these events, many of them with costumes, makeup, dresses, and spectacular outfits. In the streets, you can pay for a great skull makeup at a small price.
Also, in many municipalities of Mexico City, you can enjoy the fabulous tradition, visit markets, altars, and taste the traditional food of this season.
My favorite places are the Zocalo, Chapultepec and of course Coyoacan.
During my childhood, this celebration was always in Coyoacan, with the visit to the House Museum of Frida Kahlo, the traditional market, altars, decorations. Of course the treats, ice cream, cotton candy, and Pan de Muerto.
Day of the Dead Mexican Celebration in Movies
A few years ago, movies like Coco, Specter, The Book of Life made the Mexican celebration famous worldwide. And although for many years it has been celebrated in many places in the world, now more than ever it makes us very proud to share that beautiful tradition and that people can understand what Day of the Dead really means.