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Day of the Dead: Culture and Traditions

LIFESTYLE | Published on 19/10/2020
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Day of the Dead in Mexico is a vibrant celebration of both life and death, bringing families together and honoring those who have passed away. While some might see Day of the Dead decorations and assume its a morbid day, its festive atmosphere and colorful traditions show that death isn’t something to be feared. The culture of the Day of the Dead festival dates back to the days of the Aztec empire, and many of the Day of the Dead traditions retain these ancient practices.

When is Day of the Dead?

One reason so many people ask when is Day of the Dead in Mexico is that it’s a two days, a holiday celebrated on both November 1 and 2. The first Day of the Dead festival is to honor children, the little angels, who died too soon. The second day is for the adults, and this is when most of the celebrations take place. Because these dates fall right after October 31, some people ask when is Day of the Dead and mistake it for just a Halloween celebration, but these Day of the Dead traditions set it apart from any other holiday.

Altars


Ofrendas, or altars, are one of the main Day of the Dead traditions. Unlike spooky Halloween gravestones, these altars are set up as memorials that pay honor and preserve memories of those who have passed away. At the center of Day of the Dead altars are pictures of family members who have died, and surrounding these photos are different Day of the Dead decorations, each with their own meaning. Candles are lit to guide spirits through the afterlife, and water is put out to quench their thirst. Families can also customize their Day of the Dead altars with specific items that remind them of their loved ones: cans of Coke, playing cards, cigarettes, and traditional Day of the Dead foods. 

Pan de Muerto


Many families place pan de muerto on their Day of the Dead altars, but these deliciously sweet pastries are eaten all throughout the weeks leading up to the holiday. Pan de muerto is one of the traditional Day of the Dead foods. It’s a pastry made with yeast and a touch of orange flavoring. Bakers use leftover dough to form a pair of bones on the top of the bread, and once it’s baked, it’s coated in more sugar. They’re best when eaten fresh with a Mexican hot chocolate, one of the other traditional Day of the Dead foods.

Marigold Flowers


Bright orange marigolds are popular Day of the Dead flowers, appearing on tables and altars across the country. At flower shops and grocery stores, you’ll see plenty of marigolds set out for sale in the weeks leading up to the Day of the Dead festival. Like candles, these bright Day of the Dead flowers are said to help guide the spirits of the dead.

Catrinas


Perhaps one of the most iconic parts of Day of the Dead in Mexico are the catrinas, skeletons dressed in Victorian costumes with brightly painted faces. While these Day of the Dead decorations may seem like an odd combination, they serve as a reminder that underneath our clothes, be they elegant or plain, we are all humans who will one day die. Many of these catrinas have bright Day of the Dead flowers on their heads and vibrant dresses, showing that death isn’t something to be feared.

Day of the Dead isn’t a spooky or morbid holiday. While the festival dates back hundreds of years, the vibrant energy of Day of the Dead can still be felt throughout Mexico. It’s a celebration of life and a pleasant memorial to those who have died. By creating altars and celebrating this day, the memories of family members live on.


Looking for traditional Mexican recipes to warm up your Day of the Dead celebrations? We've created this video just for you!

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