Day of the Dead: Traditions and Celebrations

While most of the world is celebrating October 31st with Halloween costumes, decorations, and candy, Mexico honours a traditional holiday called Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead). There is no doubt you’ve seen the parades of beautifully decorated masks and face paint, but what does this traditional holiday actually celebrate?  

We’re looking at what the Day of the Dead is, how it’s celebrated, and the places you want to be to be near the action.  

When is the Day of the Dead?

The Day of the Dead is celebrated from the 1st-2nd November. While it may have the spook factor associated with Halloween, it’s only once the candy has been stashed away that the true Dia de Los Muertos begins. The 1st of November is All Saints’ Day and November 2nd is officially the Day of the Dead.
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What is the Day of the Dead?

Dia de Los Muertos may look scary upfront with the skeletons and masks, but it may surprise you that there is nothing scary about this celebration for the people of Mexico. Rather, the Day of the Dead is a time when families come together to celebrate the lives of the departed.  

It is believed that the celebrations open the bridge to the afterlife from November 1st to the 2nd, allowing the dearly departed to visit their families in the land of the living.  

So, while most would expect doom and gloom, Dia de Los Muertos is a celebration of the life left behind. The traditions and celebrations are a way to remember those who have passed on and invite them to partake in the festivities.
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How is the Day of the Dead celebrated?

Mexico celebrates Dia de Los Muertos in many ways. On your holiday to Mexico over the Day of the Dead, you may be lucky enough to see some of the exquisite celebrations and traditions.  

Marigold flowers line the streets, offering beautiful golden pathways for the departed to make their way into the land of the living. The bursts of colour are stunning, transforming the streets into luminous yellow walkways.  

If you have the chance to visit a cemetery, you may notice the abundance of offerings left on the headstones. These are generally items the departed would have enjoyed while they were living. Whether it’s their favourite food or delectable beverage, it’s wonderful to see families congregating to celebrate the lives lost, bringing their spirits back with their beloved favourites.  

Traditionally, the people of Mexico build altars, known as ofrendas, in their homes. Here, the deceased's picture is placed alongside candles, marigolds, and offerings. 

Urban areas have more of a party feel with street parades, costumes, music, and dancing. You can get in on the action by dressing up or donning some of the traditional face paint, representing a skull. It is here you will see the most intricately designed masks and skulls, with bursts of vivid colours that the Day of the Dead is known for.  

The important thing to remember about the celebration is that everything is done as a sign of respect to remember the departed. The Day of the Dead is stooped in tradition and is one of the most culturally significant holidays in Mexico.
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What are ofrendas?

Ofrendas are altars found in Mexican homes that pay tribute to those who have died. Typically, a table is set up with two levels, both adorned with brightly coloured tablecloths. The higher level is where photographs and personal items belonging to the departed are placed. Belongings generally vary based on the deceased’s age, for example, a toy for a child or a piece of jewellery for someone older.  

The lower level of the ofrendas is for the offerings. These are usually traditional foods, including tamales and mole. Other popular offerings include pan de muerto, a sugar pastry in the shape of bones or worldly delights particularly enjoyed by the deceased like alcohol.  

The point of the ofrendas is for the departed to know they are being remembered, as well as indulge in the offerings presented by the living. Putting together the ofrendas is a family affair, with everyone coming together to remember their loved ones and share stories.
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Where to go in Mexico to celebrate the Day of the Dead

The largest celebrations take place in Mexico City, where parades fill the streets with costumes, masks, and celebrations on every corner. But it’s not the only place to consider celebrating the Day of the Dead.  

Riviera Maya is a brilliant spot for celebrating. Walking the ancient streets, you’ll come across a plethora of beautiful crafts, delectable treats, and intricate decorations. Xcaret Park is a popular eco park offering water activities, a theme park, and history exploration. During Dia de Los Muertos, the park is transformed into an all-out colourful celebration where you can experience the best of this Mexican tradition.  

If you’re looking for the spook factor, look no further than the Chichen Itza archaeological site, the largest city of Mayan civilisation. Don’t be surprised if you hear and see the unexplainable, the mysterious history of the site will have you feeling the lost spirits of years gone by. 

But for days of soaking up the sunshine, swimming in clear turquoise bliss, and relaxing poolside, Riviera Maya hotels are the place to be.  

Cancun, Mexico, is another must-visit, offering plenty of shopping opportunities for your Day of the Dead souvenirs. Some hotels also have their own ofrendas, allowing you to experience this tradition first-hand. When the celebrations are done, it’s time to hit the white sand beaches and explore the calm blue waters where fun and excitement await.
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Add a touch of luxury with Sovereign

Do you want to celebrate the Day of the Dead? Why not experience the celebrations for yourself on a luxury holiday to Mexico? At Sovereign Luxury Travel we have over 50 years’ experience in creating bespoke luxury holidays around the world. Our Personal Travel Planners are on hand every step of the way to ensure you Travel with Confidence and have an unforgettable holiday.

For more information, call our Personal Travel Planners on:

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