What is Mexico's Day of the Dead?

What is Mexico's Day of the Dead?

Mexico is a dreamy destination where you will find exquisite dishes everywhere, glorious views at every turn, friendly and helpful people, and fun traditions celebrated every month. But one tradition has stolen the hearts of locals and tourists and merges the best of Mexico in 2 days: The Day of the Dead.

The Day of the Dead takes place yearly in November to commemorate the lives of those who passed away. Thanks to its joyful ambiance, vibrant colors, and deepfelt meaning, the Day of the Dead has inspired many writers and filmmakers to create beautiful representations of it in engaging stories and brilliant movies.

Read on to fall in love with this unique Mexican celebration that everyone must experience at least once in a lifetime.

What is the Day of the Dead?

Day of the Dead, or Día de Muertos, is a Mexican tradition dedicated to honoring the lives of the dearly departed souls. Day of the Dead is celebrated yearly on November 1st and 2nd in Mexico and other parts of the world, mainly in Latin America and parts of the United States, where the Latino population is abundant.

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Besides the name, these 2 days are a time of big celebrations in the country because it is believed that during this period, the souls of those no longer on earth come back for a brief reunion that includes food, drink, and remembrance.

UNESCO declared the Day of the Dead an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of Mexico in 2008.

Origins of the Day of the Dead

This tradition is a mix of pre-Columbian and Spanish customs, and its earliest roots date back 3,000 years to the Aztec people in parts of central Mexico. The Aztecs held a month-long festival paying tribute to the spirits of the dead and the underworld rulers: Mictecacihuatl and her husband, Mictlantecuhtli.

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After the Spanish conquered the Aztec empire, European influence on Catholicism was widespread, and the Catholic Church rejected this original celebration since it did not align with their beliefs.

The pre-Hispanic custom of venerating the dead became fused with the Catholic tradition of celebrating “All Saints” and “All Souls” days. This holiday is celebrated on November 1st and 2nd, which are important to the Catholic Church. There are other versions of this Roman Catholic tradition that involve pre-Hispanic practices.

When is the Day of the Dead Celebrated in Mexico?

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In the 16th century, the Catholic Church moved the dates of the Day of the Dead celebration to the Catholic dates that commemorate All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. The result of this fusion is what is today known as Día de Muertos, celebrated on November 1st and 2nd.

All Saint’s Day (November 1st)

A day dedicated to children who have passed away. Top celebrations include visiting the cemetery to bring extra joy and pay a heartfelt tribute to the little ones by decorating their graves, lighting candles, and leaving flowers and gifs; some families even leave some food.

All Souls’ Day (November 2nd)

On the other hand, November 2nd is dedicated to the departed souls of adults, be these friends, relatives, and even famous people. To honor their loved ones, the living do pretty much the same as on November 1st. They create altars, light candles, and leave flowers and gifts on the tombstones of things the deceased enjoyed in life.

How do Mexicans Celebrate the Day of the Dead

There are many ways Mexicans celebrate the Day of the Dead, but the top customs include the following:

1. Visiting the cemetery. 

The most traditional way to celebrate the Day of the Dead. Families usually gather at the cemetery to clean and adorn the grave for the spirit to come. Graves are adorned with what the deceased loved in life; children's graves are often decorated with flowers, photographs, sweets, and toys; for adults, flowers, photos, alcohol, and cigars are typical. You will expect the ambiance to be sad, but it is the opposite! You will find families telling stories and sharing anecdotes about the deceased; some families bring grills to the cemetery and enjoy a big feast with the favorite food and drinks of the departed. Later in the night, bands are hired to come and perform, and people dance and party in the cemetery with the visiting souls.

2. Ofrendas 

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Another way to celebrate is with altars or Ofrendas inside the houses. Families put up photographs, Cempasúchil flowers, opal incense, sugar skull or "Calaveritas de Azúcar," the deceased's favorite foods, and light candles. Altars also feature colorful paper cut in fun designs called Papel Picado. It is common to see a Cempasúchil flower path outside the houses that helps the soul find the altar.

3. La Catrina 

Dia de muertos

If you visit Mexico in November, you will encounter beautiful representations of La Catrina, depicted as a female skeleton wearing a fancy hat commonly placed on the altars as a figurine. José Guadalupe Posada created the original sketch. Since then, it has become a representative figure of the Day of the Dead celebrations (although you can find it pretty much all year round if you pay attention at local markets!). It is common to see people walking around this Day dressed up as La Catrina and her male counterpart, El Catrin. Some people get fully dressed, and others paint their faces. Don't forget to ask for a photo if you encounter one!

4. Pan de Muerto 

A round of sweet bread covered in red or white sugar and strips representing bones. You can find this bread beginning in September; however, it is in November when you can find it everywhere and in many variations: it can be filled with jam, cream, or chocolate; and flavored with butter or orange; the options are endless!

Day of the Dead is a magical time to reunite and celebrate the life of that special someone that is no longer with us. It's a unique time when life and death intertwine and create a colorful space to remember our loved ones. Some cultures think of death as bad, but for Mexicans, death is just a continuation of life, a new beginning for our souls.

Day of the Dead at TAFER Resorts

At TAFER Hotels & Resorts, from November 1st to 30th, and for the very first time, a Day of the Dead Festival will take place at all our properties. During the month, guests and members will find a daily schedule of culinary, cultural, and wellness activities to commemorate this wonderful tradition the Mexican way. Limited-time menus will be available at all the restaurants, as well as signature drinks prepared with seasonal flowers. Fun traditional games for kids and adults will take place throughout the resort, and special massages using traditional techniques and endemic ingredients will be available at our spas. The events have no extra cost, and all activities will be available for guests and members to enjoy. Keep an eye on TAFER Resorts’ social media accounts for more information and to see the schedule per destination once the month is closer.

Day of the Dead in Town

Celebrating Day of the Dead in Cancun

The Life and Death Traditions Festival in Playa del Carmen will take place from October 30th to November 2nd at Xcaret Park.

Celebrating Day of the Dead in Los Cabos

Visit the San José del Cabo Gallery District to view magnificent altars, or head to Plaza Amelia in Cabo San Lucas on November 1st and 2nd. Both places will leave you mesmerized with this new type of beauty.

Celebrating Day of the Dead in Puerto Vallarta

Visit Plaza de Armas on November 1st and 2nd to see an impressive display of altars in the main square across from the Malecon and next to City Hall.

The Malecon transforms into a boardwalk of giant, fancifully decorated Catrins and Catrinas that you have to see.

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Sayulita offers a night walk that starts in the central plaza and ends at the main cemetery next to Playa de los Muertos, which at midnight turns into a big party with a band performing and people dancing the night away

We hope this overview of the Day of the Dead has inspired you to visit our magical country in November to experience first-hand this lively tradition that has captivated many people worldwide.

Don't forget that at all TAFER properties, our Day of the Dead Festival will take place with limited-time culinary, cultural, and wellness offerings for all guests and members to enjoy.