Travel Guide: Mexico’s Day Of The Dead

Dio de los Muertos

There is only one certainty in life. Death. It is the only thing you can guarantee we will all experience at some point. The Day of the Dead festival in Mexico takes both life and death to the next level. Some cultures mourn the dead with tears and sorrow. Other cultures celebrate the lives that came before us. That is what the Day of the Dead is. A day to celebrate the lives of those we love who have gone before us into the vast unknown. These fascinating rituals exist for as long as 3,000 years into history. The Day of the Dead celebrations has become one of the many UNESCO events around the world. Preserving the culture of human history is crucial to future generations. Let’s have a look together, at what it is and how we can celebrate La Dio De Los Muertos: The Day of the Dead!

1. La Calavera Catrina

Lady of the Dead

The Day of the Dead celebration dates back to pre-Columbian cultures. Festivals were held during the 9th month of the Aztec calendar for the course of an entire month. Dedication of the celebrations went to the Lady of the Dead who eventually morphed into the modern version La Calavera Catrina. Jose Guadalupe Posada created the satirical image of the goddess in a 20th-century European-style hat. What was once a comment on the appropriation of Europen pre-revolutionary style has become one of the most quintessential icons of Mexican culture in the modern world.

2. Calaveras Makeup

Sugar Skull Makeup

The word Calavera means skull.  The most recognizable Calaveras are the famous sugar skulls, however, during the Day of the Dead celebrations, it is very common for people to paint their faces in Calavera Makeup. Initially, celebrators of the festival would wear Calavera masks and as with life itself, tradition evolves.

Eventually, people began to adapt the costumes into facepaint and so the Calavera makeup was born. By painting our faces, we are granted freedom from the confines of our daily world, and we can dance joyfully in celebration. I think it is time for me to paint my face, Calavera Style.

3. Sugar Skulls

Candy Sugar Skulls

I was under the impression that these brightly colored skulls bare the name sugar skulls due to the sugary sweetness of all the bright colors. In fact, they are made of sugar. A sweet Calavera candy to celebrate the Day of the Dead. Historically, Mexico had an abundance of sugar production yet was too poor to import European church decorations, so early Catholic Friars found a way to make beautiful decorations for their festivals out of sugar. Originally a religious festival, this fantastic event has become more of an iconic cultural festival throughout the years.

4. Picnics On a Grave

Picnic on a grave

I like this tradition. Most people I know would prefer to chase the ghosts of the dead away. In fact, celebrators of the Day of the Dead are reaching out, inviting the spirits of the deceased to return for a visit. During the three-day celebration family and friends will spend time cleaning and decorating the graves of their loved ones. An entire years worth of planning goes into the decorations and offers to be made at the graves. Bringing family members favorite foods and gifts to their graves is a time-honored tradition. There are toys for the spirits of children, and tequila is a gift for the ghosts of their parents.

5. Altars


The creation of altars out of respect for the dead is a beautiful tradition. Decorations of sugar skulls, photographs and the favorite foods of the dead adorn the countryside, seen in graveyards and homes as invitations to the spirits to return to visit us. It is a way of honoring the lives that came before us, to never forget. Maybe, this idea brings more comfort to the living than to the dead. In knowing that when we pass to the other side, future generations will not forget who we were. No matter how you look at it, it is a beautiful sentiment.

6. Marigolds

Mexican Marigolds

The Flor De Muerto is the Mexican marigold. The bright orange color is unmistakable. Tradition states that the marigold attracts the spirits of the dead. You will see thousands upon thousands of marigolds adorning the graves of lives lost, in the hope that for just a moment lovers and family can be reunited.

7. Alumbrada Vigil

Day of the Dead Vigil

Do not miss the Alumbrada Vigil. One must view this sacred procession as a moment of absolute respect for the dead. The lighting of thousands of candles, the remembrance of who these souls once were. It is honor it its truest form. These candlelight vigils speak to the souls of the living and the dead, longing, missing, ultimately wishing for just one more shared embrace.

8. Day of the Dead Parades

Day of the Dead Parades

There is amazing Day of the Dead Parades around the world. Tho, this writer finds the most beautiful parades to be in Mexico itself. Beautiful costumes and fantastical cardboard skeletons dancing through the streets. You see life and death are nothing more than a celebration. A dance between this world and the next. As long as we are still living, we have the freedom to express ourselves.

9. Unescapable

Aztec Skull

This beautiful Aztec Calavera reminds us that no one escapes death. Let us revel in the joy that is life. Reminding us to cherish the memory of those who came before us and to value each and every moment that is now. Soon enough our grandchildren will be keeping an Alumbrada vigil for us at our graves if we should be so lucky. In the meantime, let us eat, drink and be merry.

In a metaphor for life, the Day of the Dead allows us to be free and to celebrate the fine line between the living and the dead. Because in fact, even in life, we are all Calaveras.

Whilst researching for this article i came across this fantastic Youtube video, unfortunately it is not in English but it shows off just how exciting, vibrant and seductive this festival really is.

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