Just like the Mardi Gras carnival in New Orleans or the carnivals in Brazil, you can’t miss the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico. These customs take place every year from the end of October until the first days of November, and is recognized as a special event of cultural heritage by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). All your senses will be ignited, as this experience is lifechanging!
During the Day of the Dead, Mexicans honor the loved ones who have died. However, at its core, this is a celebration of life because in Mexican culture, death is a part of life and there is rebirth after death. And we must say: every celebration is big when it comes to Mexico.
So, get ready for a wave of masks, colors, dolls, monarch butterflies, skulls, flowers, but most importantly, music and lots of dancing. Here is our roundup of all the very best Mexican traditions for the Day of the Dead.
In ancient times, people believed the souls of those who left this world required a burial with objects that would help them on their journey to the afterlife. This paved the way for the creation of one of the most important traditions for the Day of the Dead: the offering. The offering is a gift of food for the deceased, made of elaborate and heavily decorated altars. The elements, such as earth, wind, water and fire, play important roles and should be incorporated as part of this gift and ritual for those from beyond. Below are some examples of what the offering should entail:
- A white tablecloth that symbolizes purity and joy
- Water to quench the thirst of the deceased; flavored water is often used as it is believed those from beyond extract the flavor from it
- Candles to guide the path of the souls so they can find the offering; also included are cross-shaped candles that symbolize the four cardinal points
- The famous colorful confetti which symbolizes the wind
- The food that is generally offered is the departed loved ones’ favorite dishes, and typically very traditional Mexican fare, such as mole, tortillas and tamales; it is also very common to include fruits such as tangerines and oranges
- The famous sugar skulls, which can also be made of amaranth and chocolate and are decorated in various colors, carry a paper with the name of the person whose soul is invited to enjoy the offering
- The earth or ash which represents our mortality and how our bodies turn to dust when we die
- The special bread of the dead, which is round and covered with sugar, and is usually decorated with bone-shaped dough
- Strong incense, which also serves to help guide souls to the offering, especially the copal, which is considered food for heavenly spirits
- For purposes of purification, salt must be included
- Objects and memories belonging to the deceased, including photographs
- Xoloizcuintle is the statue of a dog that guides the souls of the deceased and also represents the joy of deceased children
- The four hundred-petal flower or cempasuchil flower that represents the sun as a guide for the soul, and its petals are also used to decorate the altar, particularly to create a path towards it
- Image of the most important saint to the deceased along with holy water
According to Mexican tradition, different souls visit their loved ones on different days, during which they come to eat and drink as they did when they were alive. What does this mean? It is believed that souls arrive around midnight every day of the celebration, but certain souls visit a certain day. The belief is that on October 28, the murdered spirits arrive, those who were killed by violence or accidents. They are the first because they left this world ahead of time. Those who died by drowning will visit on October 29, October 30 is for the lonely and forgotten souls, and October 31 is for those in limbo, unbaptized and unborn. On November 1, the deceased children return, and November 2 is the day deceased adults are received.
Visit the Cemetery
Another tradition for the Day of the Dead is to visit the cemetery and the graves of loved ones during the day or night. The living decorate the tombs of the departed with cempasuchil flowers and candles to honor the dead. In addition, to the tune of mariachis and trios, people come together to sing the favorite songs of the deceased, and many even spend the night in the cemeteries. As part of this ritual, some people even leave offerings along the way between the house and the cemetery. In short, the party lives on in the cemeteries.
Admire the offerings along Mexican streets
The popular belief is that Mexicans are obsessed with death due to the lavish and extravagant parties that take place throughout the country during the Day of the Dead. You will be able to admire altars with offerings all over Mexico and stop to buy sweets that are enjoyed during these festivities, such as candy skulls. But there is more to this holiday, and beyond what is common among most Mexican celebrations, each region of the country carries out its own traditions as well.
Day of the Dead Tradition in Guanajuato
Guanajuato hosts the “La Catrina Live! Feast of Death and Color” on November 1, which attracts more than 20,000 people. You and/or your children can participate in various contests, enjoy the Manolas flamenco show of dead, stroll through a macabre alley, attend a fashion show, among many other activities. In the alleyways, you can meet your friends at 8:00 pm in a specific spot, and from there women are given a rose and the men a purrón (wine jar) and then everyone embarks on a tour of the historic center on foot, so it is important to wear comfortable shoes. Make sure you book your stay at any of our hotels such as: Hampton Inn by Hilton Silao-Bajio Airport, Homewood Suites by Hilton Silao Airport, Hampton Inn by Hilton Irapuato, Hampton Inn by Hilton Leon Guanajuato, Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton Salamanca Bajio , Hilton Garden Inn Salamance.
Day of the Dead Tradition in Aguascalientes
Aguascalientes hosts the Calaveras Festival, which pays tribute to the creator of the Catrina, José Guadalupe Posada. Here, the living become transformed into skulls, so come be a skull and participate in about 180 activities, including a parade or the walk, “Illuminate the Feet of the Cerro del Muerto,” in addition to enjoying concerts and bullfights, among other activities. What makes this celebration unique is its way of showcasing the relationship Mexicans have to death and their ability to enjoy it. For your convenience, we invite you to stay at any of the two Hilton hotels in Aguascalientes: Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton Aguascalientes and Hilton Garden Inn Aguascalientes.
Day of the Dead Tradition in San Luis Potosí
In San Luis Potosí, the dead are honored with prayers and incense in what is called the Xantolo. Xantolo combines the sense of community, unity, ritual, hospitality, music and dance. On November 1 and November 2, the natives take their offerings to the cemeteries and decorate the graves with flowers. In this region, it is believed the spirits stay all month long. Here you can stay at Hampton Inn by Hilton San Luis Potosí, Hilton San Luis Potosí, or Conrad San Luis Potosí.
Day of the Dead Tradition in Mexico City
In Mexico City, the meeting point for “receiving souls” at sunset is the Pantheon of San Andrés Mixquic. During this event, the lights are extinguished so the only illumination comes from the candles. In the capital, it is very difficult to choose which offering to see as there are many wonderful ones to choose from. Offerings from the central courtyard of the Blue House of Frida Kahlo or the skull contest at the Autonomous University of Mexico, or those in the Zocalo. In addition, in Xochimilco, the legend of La Llorona is recreated. Book your stay at any of the six Hilton hotels in the Mexican capital, such as the Hampton Inn & Suites Mexico City – Historic Center, Hilton Garden Inn Mexico City Santa Fe, Hilton Mexico City Airport, Hilton Mexico City Reforma, Hilton Mexico City Santa Fe, Umbral, Curio Collection by Hilton.
All of Mexico dresses up in vibrant colors, dances and celebrates with good food and merriment. Eccentricity, tradition, honor and homage to the deceased becomes part of every Mexican’s daily life during these festivities. Death is another guest during these holidays, where life is enjoyed and celebrated and loved ones return to earth. As such an important part of the culture, it’s something you can’t miss and one of the most memorable experiences to have in Mexico.