Halloween in Mexico: Dia de la Muerta (Day of the Dead)

If you’re in Mexico for Halloween, anywhere in Mexico, you’ll be able to find a Day of The Dead celebration.  It is celebrated throughout the country, with variations from state to state, but all observances are rich with tradition and culture.

Day of the Dead is an extended holiday, covering October 31st (Young Souls Day), November 1st (All Saints Day) and November 2nd (All Souls Day).

The observance of Day of the Dead goes back to pre-Hispanic Mexico.  Back to the time of the Aztecs, Mayans and other indigenous peoples in Mexico.  The belief was that the souls of the deceased return annually to visit living relatives and eat and drink with them.  These cultures all celebrated the return of the dearly departed with festivals and celebration.

Today’s Day of the Dead celebrations are in keeping with the tradition that loved ones don’t ever truly die.  They come back.  Well, at least once a year. 

So families gather to make altars, typically decorated with marigolds, candles, photographs of the deceased, favorite foods and beverages, and small trinkets.  You will see these altars in homes as well as at cemeteries.

Skulls are an important part of the celebration, and you’ll see them laid on altars.  Dancing skeletons are also quite popular.  Children exchange sugar skulls, decorated with icing for hair and names.  Designs can become quite elaborate.  These sweets represent gifts for the young souls of departed children, who will return to earth in the late afternoon of October 31st.

Another Day of the Dead tradition is Pan de Muertos, or bread of the dead.  Families gather in remembrance of their loved ones, and share in the bread as a sign of family and love.  You’ll find a recipe for pan de muertos here.  Another popular treat is Calabaza en Tacha, or candied pumpkin, made with cinnamon and brown sugar.

Day of the Dead observances are festive, and full of merriment.  If you are attending a celebration, however, it is wise to remember that these are still reverent events steeped in generations of tradition and culture.

Photo credit:  Skeleton band (flickr) and dancing skeletons (flickr)

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Mary Jo Manzanares is a traveler, travel blogger, and podcaster. In addition to her blog, Traveling with MJ, she hosts the Where Else to Go podcast, and is the founder and the editor-in-chief of The Traveler’s Way, an online travel magazine. Her travel ethos is value luxury - luxury for real people - and her goal is to help travelers know when to splurge and when to save. Mary Jo has been a speaker at various industry events around the world. When she’s not traveling, Mary Jo likes lingering over a cup of coffee, wandering in a museum, sipping wine at a cafe, and sharing it all with friends and readers. Her most recent travels were to Stockholm, a Baltic cruise, and Universal Orlando Resort.

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