The Day of the Dead (Día de Muertos) is one of the most sacred annual traditions we have in Mexico. According to popular belief, during the first two days of November, loved ones who’ve passed on come back from the beyond to visit us and enjoy their favorite food.
It’s a unique celebration because we see death in a respectful but also a joyful way. Day of the Dead should not ever be confused with the American “Halloween” since it is a celebration and a time for family - it’s not about fear or being scared. The thought that we will meet with those who are no longer here is something we look forward to each year.
Within the tradition of the Day of the Dead, there are several customs and we want to share them with you so you can more fully understand this sacred Mexican holiday.
Day of the Dead Altar (Ofrenda)
The altar is a beautifully decorated table with a bountiful offering of food and drink for loved ones who’ve passed on. It’s also the central symbol of the tradition. The altar is set with colorful elements like fresh flowers (marigolds) and lit candles alongside photos of our loved ones who’ve passed on. We also take this time to eat their favorite foods and drink the drinks they enjoyed most.
The idea is that during these two days, they can visit their altar and enjoy everything that we’ve left for them.
If you want to put an altar in your house, it’s easy, you’ll only need boxes, confetti, candles, marigold flowers, a photo of your loved one, and the food and drink that you want to leave for him or her to enjoy during their visit.
Just as the Day of the Dead offering table is the most symbolic tradition of this celebration, the Catrina is its most iconic character.
This uniquely fashionable skeleton was created by the illustrator José Guadalupe Posada as a parody of the Mexican high society. This is why the Catrina dresses so elegantly. Her character has become a symbol of the Day of the Dead, as well as one of the most used costumes of the season.
Day of the Dead Bread (Pan de Muerto)
Food is always important in every Mexican celebration and of course, for the Day of the Dead you cannot leave out a sweet treat. On these dates, all the ovens in Mexican bakeries are busy preparing the “pan de muerto”. The traditional Day of the Dead bread has a faint anise flavor, and it’s soft, fluffy pastry that’s covered in granulated sugar and decorated with strips of dough that represent bones.
Day of the Dead bread is only prepared in mid to late October each year with the intention that the living enjoy it and the dead find it on their altar.
This tradition is very unique to Mexico. The literary skeletons are comic rhymes that incorporate the theme of death, but tell tales of humorous situations of famous celebrities, family, or friends. They are written as a joke and to make the person reading it smile.
When is the Day of the Dead celebrated in Mexico?
The Day of the Dead celebration is from November 1 to 2. Day one is dedicated to remembering deceased children and day two is for remembering adults.
In some parts of Mexico, the celebration begins in the last days of October with a different intention for each day. On October 28, all those who died due to an accident are remembered. On October 29, we remember the people who have drowned. October 30 and 31 are dedicated to souls in limbo and unbaptized, forgotten or orphaned.
In Mexico, death is part of life, and with the tradition of the Day of the Dead in Mexico we celebrate and pamper our dear loved ones.