As Mexico prepares to celebrate the Day of the Dead, visitors from around the world are invited to experience this unique holiday. Every corner of the country, from the island of Janitzio in Michoacán, passing through the towns of Chiapas and the great Zócalo of Mexico City, will be dressed in color and tradition waiting for millions of visitors who seek to participate in one of the most spectacular celebrations that exist.
Named Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2008 by UNESCO, the Day of the Dead is an unforgettable experience for both visitors and locals alike. It is an ancestral legacy inherited from different pre-Hispanic cultures combined with the celebration of the Catholic All Saints’ Day and is observed from the end of October through the first week of November. Based on popular belief, the deceased return each year to visit their relatives and coexist with the living to enjoy their offerings such as favorite foods and drinks.
The Day of the Dead in Mexico is one of the most important celebrations in the world and it attracts more than 7.5 million international tourists each year who wish to experience its cultural and gastronomic traditions. The set of practices and traditions that occur in the country for this holiday, both in cities and smaller towns, are mainly located in states such as Aguascalientes, Guanajuato, Michoacán, Oaxaca, Puebla, San Luis Potosi and Mexico City.
What is the Day of the Dead?
In Mexico, death is considered part of the cycle of life and has been celebrated since pre-Columbian times. For example, in Aztec mythology, the deceased embarked on a long journey before reaching Mictlán, the region of the dead.
The various elements and rituals associated with the celebration make the Day of the Dead unlike any other holiday in the world. Families create altars in their homes and offer the favorite foods and objects of sentimental values and memories to the souls of their loved ones. Typical objects at the altar include the characteristic cempasuchil flower and the delicious Pan de Muertos.
Traditions vary in all regions and some are unique to Mexico’s states and cities. Here are some notable traditions:
- Year after year, Aguascalientes performs the Calaveras Festival that pays tribute to the artist José Guadalupe Posada, creator of the famous “Catrina,” a symbol of the Day of the Dead celebrations.
- Guanajuato hosts the famous Catrinas Parade, which takes place every November 1, in which people dress like these characters from a theme that changes in each edition.
- One of the biggest festivities in Veracruz is the Mictlán Festival, which welcomes musical performances and artists.
- In Oaxaca, the residents build the Plaza de la Muerte, where tourists can get lost among the products that are handmade by artisans specifically for these dates. For this, traditional comparsas (groups of singers) play music for more than 20 hours for the celebration of the traditional “Muerteadas.”
- In San Luis Potosí, the Xantolo is the most important celebration in the area. On November 1, there is a vigil with prayers. On November 2, in the indigenous communities, it is customary to take the offerings to the pantheons and to adorn the tombs with flowers for the souls that, according to the belief of the region, remain on the earth all month.
- The island of Janitzio in Michoacan honors the “angelitos” – those who passed away as children – on a nocturnal procession. It takes place on November 1 where canoes are adorned with countless candles, carrying delicious dishes and drinks, and accompanied by music to welcome those who return from death.
- In Mexico City, millions of visitors come together in the San Andrés Mixquic pantheon to receive the souls of the dead at sunset; and in Xochimilco, the staging of La Llorona¸ the Weeping Woman, a legend that attracts locals and strangers year after year.