Day of the Dead (Dia De Los Muertos)

July 3, 2024 by Daniel Herrera

Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) is a two-day Mexican holiday that reunites the living and the dead

You’ve probably seen or heard of the Disney movie “Coco” before and if you have then you know about the Day of the Dead or Dia de los Muertos in Spanish.

What is the day of the dead or “Dia de los muertos” then?

Day of the Dead (Dia De Los Muertos) is a two day holiday that reunites the living and dead. 

In fact:

Families create ofrendas (Offerings) to honor their departed family members that have passed. These altars are decorated with bright flowers, photos of the departed, and the favorite foods and drinks of the one being honored. 

The offerings are believed to encourage visits from the land of the dead as the departed souls hear their prayers, smell their foods and join in the celebrations!

Not only that:

Day of the Dead (Día de los muertos) is a rare holiday for celebrating death and life. It is unlike any holiday where mourning is exchanged for celebration.

Are you ready to learn more about this interesting celebration?

Vamos!

Fun Facts About The Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos)

Before we dive in let’s look at some facts about The Day of the Dead:

  • Day of the Dead is not the “Mexican Halloween” like it is sometimes mistaken to be because of the timing of the year. The two holidays originated with similar afterlife beliefs but are very different in modern day.
  • Many of us see death as a sad event but those who celebrate Day of the Dead view death as a welcomed part of life. That is why you will see brightly colored skeletons and skulls everywhere during the holiday.
  • Believe it or not, Mexicans are not the only ones to celebrate Day of the Dead. It is a widely celebrated holiday all over the world. In fact, many religious communities celebrate All Souls Day during the same time as Day of the Dead.
  • The Day of the Dead is celebrated not only in Mexico but also in other parts of Latin America, each with its own distinctive traditions.

When is The Day of The Dead?

Día de los Muertos takes place on two specific days: November 1 and 2.

Here’s the deal:

The first day focuses on children who’ve died and is called Día de los Inocentes (Day of the Innocent Ones – not to be confused with Mexico’s version of April Fool’s Day on December 28) or Día de los Angelitos (Day of the Little Angels).

The second day is centered around adults and is called either Día de los Muertos or Día de los Difuntos (Day of the Departed).

Case in point:

It evolved to coincide with the respective Catholic holidays of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, two days of prayer and remembrance for the deceased.

In 2008, UNESCO recognized the Day of the Dead as part of the Representative List of the Intangible

How do People Celebrate The Day of The Dead? A Mexican Tradition

The Day of the Dead or Dia de los Muertos features ofrendas (altars) adorned with photos, marigolds, and favorite foods of the departed to welcome their spirits, as part of the dead festivities.

Not only that:

Families visit and decorate graves, sharing stories, music, and meals. Traditional foods like pan de muerto and sugar skulls symbolize the sweetness of life and the inevitability of death.

The holiday includes offerings, marigolds, food, and skeleton-painted faces as a representation of embracing mortality with joy and reverence.

Let’s take a look at each

Set up an Offering at Día de Los Muertos(Ofrenda)

Beginning in mid-October, many Mexicans set up ofrendas (altars) in their homes and businesses for loved ones who have passed, as part of a long-standing Mexican tradition.

In fact:

Ofrendas can be simple displays or elaborate multi-level affairs, but all share the same elements: photos of the deceased, food and drink they enjoyed in life, and small items they loved (say, a toy, a bottle of nail polish, or a book).

Simply put:

The offering or ofrenda represents a family’s remembrance of someone they loved; for others, it represents a homecoming, a place for their family’s spirits to return

Head to the Cemetery in Mexico City

Regardless of regional differences, Día de los Muertos is a time when people go to their cemeteries to clean the graves of their loved ones and decorate them with flowers and candles. In Los Angeles, the Hollywood Forever Cemetery hosts a Dia de los Muertos festival that includes traditional and intercultural elements, attracting thousands of visitors each year.

The good news?

The energy is often both festive and respectful, with families bringing folding chairs and blankets to settle in for a day, and even a night, of food

Buy Some Marigold Flowers

Although all sorts of flowers are used during Día de los Muertos to celebrate and acknowledge the dead, the(marigold) is considered the official flower of the dead in Mexico.

Want to know why?

Native to the central part of the country, it has been used in Day of the Dead celebrations since ancient times, as people believed its vivid hue and musky fragrance helped lead spirits back to their homes.

Keep in mind:

Today, marigolds remain popular for ofrendas and gravesites, especially in the central and southern parts of Mexico, where cemeteries transform into seas of orange, and marigold petals are strewn before altars in a nod to ancient beliefs.

Prepare Some Food, Including Pan de Muerto

Food is a very important part of Día de los Muertos, reflecting the rich culinary traditions of Mexican culture.

Ofrendas will feature the favorite foods of the deceased, representing not just their preferences but also different regional cuisines.

In fact:

Mole negro (a slow-cooked sauce made with hoja santa chili, chocolate, onions, and garlic, often served with chicken) in Oaxaca, pozole (traditional Mexican stew with meat, shredded cabbage, chili peppers, onion, garlic, radishes, avocado, salsa, and lime) in Mexico City, and calabaza en tacha (candied pumpkin cooked in sugar cane syrup) in Yucatán.

However:

Pan de muerto (bread of the dead) is a more typical food that represents the cycle of life and death for Mexicans.

In fact:

Bakeries start selling pan de muerto a week or two before Día de los Muertos, both for use on ofrendas and as a sweet treat to enjoy with coffee, hot cocoa, or atole (a hot, corn-based drink).

Get your Face Painted as a Skeleton

Skeleton imagery, including the iconic female skeleton La Catrina, has become increasingly common in Día de los Muertos celebrations, largely due to the popularity of La Catrina, a high-society skeleton sporting a feather boa and an oversized Victorian-era hat.

In fact:

Created in the early 1900s by the satirical cartoonist José Guadalupe Posada, La Catrina embodies the reality that death spares no one, rich or poor. The image was later adopted into the national psyche through the art of Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, among others.

Think about it:

Celebrations around Mexico highlight this most famous skeleton through paper mâché décor, candy skulls for ofrendas and skeleton imagery in signage and papel picado (colorful, perforated banners) that flutter across streets.

By the way:

On parade or procession days, many people paint their faces to appear as skulls and dress in colorful regional costumes or Victorian-era finery. Face painters often line the streets, ready to transform faces into skulls for passersby.

Final Words on The Day of The Dead (Dia de Los Muertos)

That’s it, amigos!

Día de los Muertos stands out among global traditions for honoring the dead due to its unique blend of indigenous and Spanish influences. Día de los Muertos is deeply rooted in Mexican heritage, reflecting the country’s rich history and cultural traditions.

Such as:

The vibrant altars, or the symbolic use of marigolds and Calaveras, and the iconic image of La Catrina.

The modern street festivals add a communal dimension, making the celebration a public affirmation of life, memory, and the enduring connection between the living and the dead.

The good news?

This distinctive celebration teaches us that by remembering and honoring our ancestors, we keep their spirits alive and enrich our own lives with their legacy just like the día de los muertos celebration.

By the way:

Do you want to feel at home in over 21 countries and speak Spanish fluently?

To learn about my special language learning method that emphasizes good habits and lifestyle over grammar, be sure to subscribe to my weekly newsletter, or if you want access to exclusive content I don’t share anywhere else, follow me on Instagram.

Meet Daniel

Since he was a child, Daniel has been passionate about Social Dynamics. Learn how Daniel got his start as a Language Coach, and why he decided to start this language blog. If you want to send Daniel a quick message, then visit his contact page here.

Leave a Comment