Mexico has many traditions and festivities full of history and culture, such as the Day of the Dead. This tradition takes place on November 1st and 2nd of each year. Still, since the beginning of October, you can see in the most iconic places of Mexico the beautiful decorations of this colorful festivity, such as ofrendas, decorations with cut paper “Papel Picado,” beautiful catrinas, and the iconic cempasúchil flower, as well as candles and delicious Mexican food.
In the Day of the Dead celebration, death does not represent an absence but a living presence. In Mexico, the death is a symbol of life that materializes in the altar offered to people who have transcended. This celebration includes diverse meanings, from religious and philosophical to material.
For being an essential part of Mexican culture, UNESCO declared this festivity as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. It is one of the most representative traditions of Mexico, besides becoming a reference for international travelers who want to know and live this magnificent celebration in all its splendor.
Its origin dates from the celebration of the religious rituals brought to Mexico by the Spaniards and the Day of the Dead that the indigenous people carried out since pre-Hispanic times. The ancient Mexicas, Mixtecs, Texcocanos, Zapotecs, Tlaxcaltecs, Totonacs, and other native peoples of Mexico, transferred the adoration of their dead to the Christian calendar. This coincided with the end of the agricultural cycle of corn, the main food crop of the country.
In pre-Hispanic times, the cult of the death was one of the essential elements of the culture. When someone died, they were buried and wrapped in a mat while their relatives organized a party to guide them on their journey to Mictlán. In the same way, they would place food that they liked in life with the belief that they could become hungry.
The Day of the Dead in the indigenous vision implies the transitory return of the souls of the deceased. They return home to the world of the living, live with their relatives, and feed themselves with the essence of the food offered to them in the altars placed in their honor.
When is the Day of the Dead celebrated in Mexico?
The celebration of the Day of the Dead in Mexico takes place on November 1 and 2 because it is divided into two days: November 1 corresponds to All Saints, a day dedicated to the “little angels” or children, and November 2 to the Faithful Departed, that is, to the adults.
Every year many families place ofrendas and altars decorated with cempasúchil flowers, cut paper, sugar skulls, pan de muerto, mole, or some dish that their relatives liked to whom the ofrenda is dedicated. Also, as in pre-Hispanic times, incense is placed to aromatize the place.
This tradition also includes decorating the tombs of loved ones with flowers and often making altars on the tombstones, which in indigenous times was thought to help lead the souls on a good path after death.
Places where the tradition endures
The Day of the Dead is celebrated throughout Mexico, depending on the region or state you visit. Here we bring you some of the places where you can live more closely this wonderful tradition:
If we are talking about places to celebrate the Day of the Dead, Patzcuaro is one of the best places to live this experience. From the moment you arrive, you can see the decoration in the main square, with a giant altar in the fountain and surrounded by the beautiful cempasúchil flowers. You can also enjoy the traditional “Danza de Los Viejitos” (a typical dance in the region). Of course, you can visit the offerings in the cemetery, witness parades, and buy handicrafts such as catrinas themed to the colorful festivity.
To live this experience to the fullest, we recommend booking a Day of the Dead tour where you can enjoy tradition-themed festivals or even parades and catrinas contests. You can also experience the event face to face by taking a boat across Lake Patzcuaro to reach the island of Pacanda and enter the cemeteries to admire the offerings and decorations of the tombs. You can’t miss every detail of this incredible Mexican festivity.
The celebration in the city has its marked program. The Day of the Dead Festival has been held in Mexico City’s Zócalo. Here you can see skulls, catrinas, and a big altar with colorful carpets in the central plaza for a few years. It is an incredible event not to be missed. There you can celebrate the day like a “chilango” (people who live in Mexico City) and witness the parade organized each year with unique customs related to catrinas and music. Also, you can listen to the typical “calaveritas” (Poems with humor sense talking about the dead) in the event and buy many souvenirs and Mexican candies.
One hour away from Mexico City, you find a small village called Mixquic where this celebration is held every year. The traditional “Alumbrada” takes place, which consists of turning off all the lights and the candles of the cemetery are the only ones that exist throughout the night. You can also enjoy typical Mexican food, mariachi, band, trios, and even a contest of cardboard skulls.
You can also visit Xochimilco and fill yourself with a terrifying experience with a night ride on the typical trajineras and let yourself be trapped by the legend of “La Llorona.” You will have a fantastic experience at an annual artistic and cultural event here. This event brings different disciplines, such as theater, pre-Hispanic music, Nahuatl singing, and mysticism in the middle of the canals Xochimilco, by the moon’s light in the Tlilac Lagoon. https://trajinerasxochimilco.info/la-llorona-xochimilco/
If you want to live this experience, you can book a Day of the Dead tour in Mexico City and not miss the tradition in the famous capital of Mexico.
In Oaxaca, the Day of the Dead is one of the most significant celebrations. The altars are always decorated with a white tablecloth or colorful cut paper. They are divided into steps with a special meaning: the first one represents the grandparents or adults, while the second or successive ones are for everyone else.
You can start with an adventure with a city tour in Oaxaca and some archeological sites. After that, visit the cemetery and admire this Mexican tradition, where families gather around the graves of their loved ones and decorate them with their favorite food and flowers. Of course, you can not miss the mezcal route and the Day of the Dead Parade. The locals dress up to represent famous people and colorful catrines from their community. The most important costume is the “Resurrector,” which carries a black coat with mirrors representing the light of life.
You can attend countless themed events in Oaxaca during this festivity, such as parades, fairs, expositions of ofrendas, and much more. You can’t miss tasting the typical delicious food since they also prepare some of the most delicious dishes in the country. If you want to visit Oaxaca on this date, book a Day of the Dead tour with us.
The Day of the Dead is celebrated throughout Mexico. In any state you visit during the last days of October, and the first days of November every year, you will be living this tradition.
Yucatán – Hanal Pixan
In Yucatan, the Hanal Pixan is the celebration of the Day of the Dead in the Mayan area. Hanal Pixan means “The food of souls,” and this celebration is possible to experience in the Yucatan Peninsula.
Every year at the end of October and beginning of November, many people will celebrate their departed loved ones by preparing altars and setting out food for them: a celebration enjoyed by the living and dearly departed.
Families get together to celebrate loved ones who have passed away. Altars are prepared with food and beverages on the table for the people visiting. This is a time when both living and deceased can enjoy one another’s company!
When visiting the region, you will learn about the concepts of death in Mexico’s pre-Hispanic past and see people decorating graves in cemeteries by hand. Also, you will enjoy traditional dishes made especially for the spirits that are believed to return to visit their families from the afterlife.
Celebrate Hanal Paixán (Day of the Dead) in the Mayan zone while you take a walk through the most recognized archeological sites.
If you want to experience this wonderful tradition up close, book a Day of the Dead tour in Yucatan and fall in love with Mexico.
In Mexico, every year, at the end of October and beginning of November, souls have a date with their loved ones who are still alive. Food is served on altars for these departed souls as well as beverages – it’s a celebration enjoyed by both the living and dearly departed.
Mexico is a country rich in culture and traditions. In each of its corners, the essence of its celebrations is maintained. However, they are celebrated in different ways in each of its states. Most of the time, it has to do with Mexicans’ beliefs. Even so, this country and its abundance of places and history will leave you enchanted, and we recommend you not to miss this celebration.