Dia de los Muertos

You'll see decorations like this all over Mexico

You’ll see decorations like this all over Mexico in anticipation of Dia de los Muertos.

I’ve just returned from two amazing weeks in Mexico, and everywhere I went, everyone was preparing for “Dia De Los Muertos”–the Day of the Dead, a national holiday celebrated each year on November 1-2 throughout Mexico, as well as many parts of Central and South America, Europe, Asia, and now regions in the US and Canada where you may find a significant number of Catholic Mexican immigrants who honour All Saints and All Souls Days in the Mexican tradition.

You will find Day of the Dead decorations everywhere in Mexico.

You will find Day of the Dead decorations everywhere in Mexico.

Even when I’d visited Mexico in May, I saw an abundance of Day of the Dead imagery and things you could buy. But come late October, the festivities kick into high gear and Dia De Los Muertos seems to be on the mind of everyone!

I learned from speaking to many Mexican friends that the celebration focuses on gathering with friends and family to pray for and remember those who have passed. It is not the morbid festival I had mistakenly thought. It is in effect, a perpetual celebration of life!

day-of-the-dead

You will see images like this everywhere I’m Mexico throughout late October to early November.

Bright colours, smiling skulls, and innately adorned skeletons can be found hanging from trees, tucked into greenery and gardens, and everywhere else. There are parades and festivities, private and public. You celebrate as you choose to. But everyone participates and everyone feels refreshed by the celebrations. If someone passed and you didn’t have time or the opportunity to say goodbye, Dia de los Muertos gives you the chance to do so. If someone has passed and you parted without clearing away negative thoughts, the Day of the Dead gives you the chance to make amends.

day-of-dead-sweets

You will find all sorts of the Day of the Dead sweets available for sale in the local market in Merida.

Alters can be found everywhere adorned with candles, baked goods, fruits, alcohol, sugar skulls, and other sweets. I actually found it to be quite invigorating to witness the rising spirit of the people as they prepared for the celebrations in their own way.

This colourful alter shows how one villa was preparing for Dia de los Muertos

This colourful alter shows how one villa was preparing for Dia de los Muertos

If you’ve never been to Mexico during this time, I would highly recommend it! Learning about, experiencing, and sharing local customs really does help you gain a better understanding of any country. Have you been part of any Dia de los Muertos celebrations? If so, please tell us about it.

Doreen Pendgracs

Known throughout the Web as the "Wizard of Words", I've been a freelance writer since 1993. I'm currently researching and writing volume II of "Chocolatour: A Quest for the World's Best Chocolate". Volume I was published in September, 2013.

46 Responses

  1. Marta Grilo
    Twitter:
    says:

    I’ve never been in Mexico before but I love every single thing about that country. Their costumes and traditions, the food and the people. I would love to go to Mexico by this time of the year to experience that. It must have been amazing!
    Marta Grilo recently posted…LJUBLJANA: CITY GUIDE #2My Profile

  2. Justine
    Twitter:
    says:

    this is something I should definitely experience at least once.

  3. Jeri
    Twitter:
    says:

    I would definitely love to experience a Day of the Dead celebration. I have some year round decorations I’ve collected over the years, but especially some things from Sante Fe.
    Jeri recently posted…#WritingPrompts: 52 Memoir PromptsMy Profile

  4. Donna Janke
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    says:

    I think it would be very interesting to visit Mexico during Day of the Dead celebrations. When I first encountered Day of the Dead decorations for sale, I thought they and the holiday seemed a bit morbid, but as I learn more about the holiday I’m coming to see it more as a celebration.
    Donna Janke recently posted…Afternoon Tea High Above LondonMy Profile

  5. Absolutely beautiful photos! Looked like you really enjoyed yourself. In Texas, we would learn about Dia De Los Muertos in some of our classes. We would do all sorts of art projects. It was certainly fun. Eventually we will head down to Mexico.
    Jennifer McMillen recently posted…Tips When Traveling to EuropeMy Profile

    • Thanks for your comment, Jennifer, and welcome to my blog! I love how we all bring different cultural experiences to the table for discussion. I imagine things are very different in the classrooms these days, as our society is so multi-cultural in nature. In Canada, where I live, there are people from every possible race and religion, so I’m sure the kids learn about important cultural events such as Dia De Lost Muertos — either from their fellow students, or as part of the new curriculum.
      Doreen Pendgracs recently posted…Dia de los MuertosMy Profile

  6. Suzanne Boles
    Twitter:
    says:

    Sounds very cool. I’d love to see it in person sometime.

  7. Linda
    Twitter:
    says:

    My best friend is an absolute fan of Dia de los Muertos. She’s in no way Mexican or Hispanic and as far as I know, she may never even have visited Mexico, but she collects DdlM gadgets like you wouldn’t believe. Her favorite color is orange so maybe there’s also a connection between the vivid orange colors that are favored in the Mexican palate and her fixation on DdlM. Love your photos in this post, Doreen.

  8. Tami
    Twitter:
    says:

    I never liked all the skeletons and skulls I associated with the Day of the Dead festival – it almost felt like Halloween. But the focus on remembering loved ones who have passed on? — now that’s something I can be interested in!
    Tami recently posted…Tournament of the Phoenix: Jousting, Anyone?My Profile

  9. Kathy Andrew
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    says:

    Lovely photos Doreen, and one of my fav. holidays. It’s obviously much better to celebrate it in Mexico, but the community where I live also had a big celebration on Sunday, with a procession and life size puppets, which unfortunately i missed!!! grrr. But the stores have icons and altars all for Dia de los Muertos. Such a great concept to celebrate life rather than just mourn lost loved ones.
    Kathy Andrew recently posted…How Can You Better Manage Change?My Profile

  10. Susan cooper
    Twitter:
    says:

    The Day of the Dead is huge in California and widely celebrated as you can imagine with the number of immigrants from Mexico we have. I’ve always loved the colorful decorations they use for this holiday. And the thought behind the holiday is a wonderful one.
    Susan cooper recently posted…Crockpot Salsa Verde Pork Roast: #RecipeMy Profile

  11. Doreen — I had never heard of The Day of the Dead.How interesting and I love your photos. When I first started reading your post, I thought it was a holiday like our Halloween but it obviously isn’t. So glad you had such a great trip!
    Jeannette Paladino recently posted…Instagram Gains, Blogs Lose Among Fortune 500My Profile

  12. Thx to Jeannette, Susan, Kathy, and Suzanne for your latest comments. I appreciate them greatly and am glad you enjoyed the pics. Much more to come on Mexico. Stay tuned!

  13. Great article Doreen. I recently spent about a week around Oaxaca and was there to celebrate the Day-of-the-Dead. What I found most interesting was the big “party” atmosphere around the graveyards at night where people were having a feast and leaving behind tons and tons of flowers! What an amazing country, Mexico.

    • Thanks so much for your comment. I’ve not yet had the pleasure of visiting Oaxaca, but I know they have a strong connection to chocolate and moles. That is probably the only place I must still visit on my exploration of ‘authentic Mexico.’

  14. I caught the day of the dead in Spain a few years ago and it was so cool! My birthday is Halloween so naturally love all this kind of stuff.
    Love this festival. Its such a great thing to celebrate lives past.
    PS: Recently received some rather delicious chocolates for my birthday in a day of the dead theme box… bit weird but I thought of you, Doreen. Because of the chocolate, not the day of the dead 😉
    Brilliant read, as ever!
    James recently posted…Lub d: The Coolest Bangkok Hostel… Fact!My Profile

    • Thanks, James. For your comment, and for thinking of me! My friend Charlotte who owns Xocodiva Chocolates in Puerto Vallarta gave me a Day of the Dead chocolate coffin filled with delicious chocolate bonbons. Loved it! Do you remember what company makes the DOD-themed chocolates you were eating?
      Doreen Pendgracs recently posted…Dia de los MuertosMy Profile

  15. Karrie
    Twitter:
    says:

    I love the first photo, Sugarskull!! Very colorful and artistic decorations. I wish I can visit Mexico and experience their traditions and festivals.

  16. Chris
    Twitter:
    says:

    Ah Mexico, you know how much we love that place!!

    What an amazing time to be there, now I’m just itching to get back!

    It’s amazing how the imagery of this has now become so mainstream.

    The amount of kids I saw this Halloween (thanks to Facebook, there were no trick or treaters in Szeged, Hungary) dressed in Day of the Dead costumes was staggering!
    Chris recently posted…Peru: A false start?My Profile

    • Hi Chris and thx for your comment. Yes, there has been a definite Halloween invasion into Mexico. I actually saw decorated plastic pumpkins for sale! And the reverse is true. With so many Hispanics living throughout North America, the lines between Halloween and Day of the Dead have truly been blurred and the imagery for both is now very similar.

  17. Elizabeth
    Twitter:
    says:

    I love the pictures. So colourful. I bet it would be a good time to visit Mexico. I might have to pencil it into my calendar.
    Elizabeth recently posted…5 Insider Tips for Enjoying Fantastic Food in MelbourneMy Profile

  18. I have a feeling you’d really enjoy it, Elizabeth. The culinary offerings in Mexico are always full of creativity and surprises! And during the Day of the Dead celebrations, creativity is definitely at the forefront.

  19. Catarina says:

    Remember dia de los muertos vividly because I went to see the government that time of the year. What I didn’t see though, or have forgotten, are sweets made especially for that day.
    Catarina recently posted…Do you know how to communicate to harvest ideas?My Profile

    • Hi Catarina: Indeed, the markets I visited and the chocolate shops I visited all had special Dia de los Muertos sweets and offerings. Xocodiva, my favourite chocolate shop in Puerto Vallarta, even had tiny chocolate coffins filled with decadent chocolate bonbons. Very creative!

  20. I have never seen it in Mexico but abroad the face paint of some people is truly stunning
    Mar Pages vidal recently posted…Gaggan, Asia’s Best restaurantMy Profile

  21. Uhlala! Mexico, I can’t wait for the time that I can say, Mexico I’m coming! Butttt, it has to wait. Great post dear, will keep this on my bookmark list for when I get to see MExico!
    Mary Charie Ramos recently posted…South America: Travel to Chile, Win a 10-day Dream Trip for 2! #VisitChile @lanairlinesusaMy Profile

  22. Dia De Los Muertos has really exploded all over the world, but I bet you can’t beat being in Mexico for the real deal! I’d be all over those baked goods! Move over sugar candy skulls, I want the real sweet deal!
    Gemma Two Scots Abroad recently posted…Fan Girls for Van – POTF #15My Profile

  23. Cai
    Twitter:
    says:

    This is very nice event, so much like here in the Philippines whenever we celebrate all souls and saints day. Mexico and Philippines really have a lot of things in common:)

  24. Wait, I don’t get it. Were you there during the Dia los muertos? If you were, I am totally jealous! It would be amazing to witness this in Mexico!
    Trisha Velarmino recently posted…8 Highlights of Uganda: A Photo EssayMy Profile

    • Hi Trisha: I just missed the actual Dia de los Muertos as I had already spent 2 weeks travelling MX just prior to that and I had to get home. But I could certainly get the spirit and understand the meaning of the celebration having spoken to several Mexican friends about it while there. Someday I will return to fully experience the Day of the Dead!

  25. Sanket D.
    Twitter:
    says:

    Day of the Dead is one of the most fascinating traditions in the world, isn’t it? I’d love to see it for myself one day. Really loved some of the art-work you managed to capture here 🙂
    Sanket D. recently posted…North Shore’s Kahuku – A Hawaiian ParadiseMy Profile

  26. I saw another post like this but in L.A. I still find this festival creepy and beautiful all at once.

    • I hear you, Evan. I, too, had the creeps about the Dia de los Muertos festival. But after a friend explained how it enabled him to feel close to his departed other and give her the opportunity to leave this plane if she so chose, I could better understand the purpose and intended meaning.
      Doreen Pendgracs recently posted…Dia de los MuertosMy Profile

  27. Himanshu
    Twitter:
    says:

    Lately i have started liking everything about Maxico. It has much more to offer. Thankks for this post.
    Himanshu recently posted…My Tryst With Kunzum Pass: Road trip From Kaza To Kunzum TopMy Profile

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