Day of the Dead in Mexico Explained

Posted: November 1, 2016

Author: Journey Mexico

What is Day of the Dead? Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos, is an often misunderstood holiday celebrated in Mexico. While, technically speaking, the actual Day of the Dead is November 2nd, the tradition has evolved to also include October 31st and November 1st as well.

Because the US and Mexico are in such close proximity and a share a common geographical border, many traditions have crossed national lines and become a part of both North American and Mexican cultures. Such is case of the celebrations held in Mexico on October 31st for Halloween, which is a holiday adopted from European cultures via the US.

Much like in the US, Halloween celebrations in Mexico involve costumes, partying with friends, and even trick-or-treating but in Mexico, Halloween is seen as “fun and games” whereas November 1st and 2nd are much more serious of traditions.

November 1st is traditionally referred to as Dia de los Angelitos (Day of the Little Angels) in Mexico and is the day to honor infants and children who have died. November 2nd is the actual Dia de los Muertos when families honor adults whom they have lost. It is believed that on these days, the souls of the deceased return to earth to be with their families and loved ones.


It is important to note that the celebrations for these holidays, especially for Dia de los Angelitos and Dia de los Muertos, vary widely throughout the different regions of Mexico. In some areas, the cemetery plays a larger role in celebrations than in others where the home is the center of celebrations where alters and shrines are built. The favorite food and beverage of the deceased are often taken to graves and alters to honor the dead and in some regions, people celebrate the loss of children by hosting dinners consisting of specific foods and sweets. Costumes, body paint, and imagery of skulls and bones are often important in many areas of Mexico when celebrating these holidays as well.


The mood of these holidays will also vary from grievance to humorous are relatives reminisce about funny events and anecdotes of the deceased. One of Mexico’s most prominent symbols of Dia de los Muertos, the Catrina figures (little statues of skeletons dressed in formal clothing), began from a printed parody poking fun at an upper class Mexican female, and there is another tradition where people write short poems called calaveras (“skulls”), which are mocking epitaphs poking fun at the quirky habits or funny events of the deceased and their past.


 Ready to visit Dia de los Muertos in Mexico?

The Day of the Dead celebration is one the most colorful, moving, and authentic cultural experience one can have in Mexico. While the festivities differ throughout Mexico, the requirement of advance planning does not (we recommend at least one year in advance). If you’re interested in traveling to Mexico for Day of the Dead, browse our customizable sample itineraries below or  contact Journey Mexico today.

Day of the Dead Celebrations in Mexico – On this 9 day sample tour, we’ve highlighted the Dia de los Muerto traditions of three different regions including Mexico City, Michoacan, and San Miguel de Allende.  In addition to experiencing the sights, sounds, and smells of Day of the Dead, the itinerary is intertwined with each of the cities most important highlights and off the beaten path experiences.

Dia de los Muertos – Where to Celebrate – Oaxaca and Michoacan are incredible places to visit during Dia de los Muertos as elaborate, traditional celebrations still run strong in these regions, but there are also other regions to experience like San Miguel Allende, Puebla, Mexico City, Cancun, and more…

Photos provided by Michoacan OCV and San Miguel Allende OCV

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