Day of dead

Tequila, fiesta, mezcal and tacos, synonyms of Mexico for tourists that visit the country. However, the mexican escence does not only remain on celebrations and parties but also knows when to venerate as well.


Inscribed on the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list by UNESCO in 2008, this holiday is celebrated mostly by people from central and southern regions of the country. Its origins come from the pre-Columbian age and it is part of one of the most important and symbolic traditions.
In spite of what death represents to humans (sadness, uncertainty and fear), mexicans have learned to stand out their escence when comes to celebrate this holiday every year.

But, what is day of dead really about?

Every November 2nd, mexicans venerate their beloved ones that have passed away by putting offerings in homes, schools, streets, etc. The belief that comes with this tradition is that dead people visit at night (as spirits) and serve themselves the offerings are lied down for them. This special day is dedicated to not only remember the ones that passed away, but also to gather around with family and friends. There are several things that are important to consider when you’re putting together the offerings. To illustrate better this celebration and its implications, let’s check how to do it, step by step.


People go to the supermarket to buy fruits and flowers from cempasuchil, chocolate skulls, sugar, bread, sweets, sawdust, confetti, purple and orange decorations and traditional food. Once they have all the ingredients, they pick a place (an altar) where the offerings and costumes are laid down.


This is the most important and symbolic part of the festivity. The belief that comes with this tradition is people (from beyond) return to this world and take the offerings that were laid for them. These offerings can vary from one to another depending on the theme, but every offering must have the following basis:


  • Levels:
    It has more than one level and each one of them has different meanings; for example, earth, underworld, heaven, etc.
  • Candles:
    Represent the light that leads dead people (spirits) on its way.
  • Confetti:
    Represents the wind and stands for purity and mourning, either yellow or purple confetti.
  • Cross:
    Religious symbol that stands for company and protection for the living and dead people.
  • Bread of dead:
    They place one or more pieces of this bread which has a circle shape and in the upper part a skeleton symbol.
  • Arc:
    Located at the top of the altar and it means the gateway to the world of the dead.
  • Cempasúchil flower:
    Adornment and welcome (this flower only grows on November)
  • Skulls:
    Sugar, chocolate, amaranth or other material, these are an allusion to death.
  • Food:
    Guacamole, pozole, tamales, tacos, etc., depends on the taste of their deceased one.
  • Water:
    To quench the thirst.
  • Personal belongings:
    Photos or personal belongings are placed in the altar as a way to venerate and remember with affection.

November 2nd

Once the altar is all set up, people usually attend to church, pray the rosaries, visit the cemeteries to lay down flowers and take a moment of thought. During the evening, families gather around for dinner and eat the bread of dead with hot chocolate mean while children and teenagers dress up with costumes (skeleton, catrinas, devil, ghosts, etc). They go around the neighborhood ringing the bell asking for treats once they have sung ¨Queremos nuestra calaverita, queremos nuestra calaverita¨ (We want our sugar skull, we want our sugar skull)

People from schools and work also exchange their chocolate skulls which are written with the following phrase “La fiesta, estaba Azucena emocionada, su cumpleaños se acercaba, y ella ni cuenta se daba que la calaca la acechaba […]” (Azucena was excited at the party, because it was close to her birthday, but she didn’t notice the skull was following her)

In Mexico each holiday is celebrated at the fullest with friends and family. There are parades on the streets and cultural exhibitions in the center of the city. It’s a great way to enjoy the food and have a  pleasant moment with people. Your next destination is Mexico!

If you liked this article, check out our blog to read more about traditions and events from all over the world.