‘Day of The Dead’: A celebration of life and death

While the Mexican holiday, ‘Day of The Dead’ might sound a little – okay, extremely – depressing, it’s actually far from it. Read on to learn all about this multi-day cultural festival.
‘Day of The Dead’: A celebration of life and death

We can definitely learn a thing or two from the way Mexican culture responds to death. Here’s a quick deep dive into the festival.

Día de los Muertos (translated to ‘Day of The Dead’) is a fun-filled Mexican festival held over the first two days of November. Yep, you read that correctly: fun-filled. It’s a time for families to come together and celebrate all things life and death through dress ups, food, dancing and colourful traditions. During this time, families reminisce over their memories with loved ones who are no longer with them, and celebrate those who are.

The History

While ‘Day of The Dead’ is a new(ish) term used to describe the festival held over the 1st and 2nd of November, celebrating death is far from new for the people of Mexico. In fact, the Indigenous people of Mexico have been practising rituals that celebrate the lives of their ancestors for more than 3,000 years.

Originally, ‘Day of The Dead’ lasted an entire month (but no, it wasn’t referred to as ‘Month of The Dead’. Good question, though). However, upon hitting the 20th century, the month-long festival was squeezed into three days, spanning the 31st of October to the 2nd of November. And yes, each day had its own unique name:

  • 31st October: Halloween
  • 1st November: Day of The Innocents
  • 2nd November: Day of The Dead

And now, ‘Day of The Dead’, is widely celebrated from midnight on the 1st November, until midnight on the 2nd November.

The Traditions

Vibrant traditions are the backbone of ‘Day of The Dead’, and you’ll find that the streets of Mexico exude colour and life during this time; people dressed up as colourful (and somewhat beautiful) skeletons spilling out into the streets and city squares at all hours, creating a truly magical scene.

Here’s are four of the most famous traditions associated with ‘Day of The Dead’:

Decorating The Grave

Most families head straight to the graves of their loved ones, where they clean and then decorate them with ofrendas, translated to ‘offerings’. These might be pictures, keepsakes, marigolds, sugar skulls, the deceased person’s favourite foods, and candles. Ofrendas are designed to signify that the soul lives on, beyond the body of the person who has died – to us, it sounds like a beautiful way to feel as though a loved one has never truly left you.

Eating Pan De Muerto

If you Google the term, ‘pan de muerto’, you might be appalled to learn its English translation (we won’t spoil it for you – go on, Google it!). But this food isn’t as scary or gross as its name makes it out to be. It’s actually a subtle orange-flavoured sweetbread that has bone-themed decorations atop it and is generously covered in sugar. Sounds pretty delicious, hey?

Displaying Calacas

You’ve probably seen them, but had no clue what they were. Calacas are colourfully decorated skeleton figurines that are dressed in traditional Mexican dresses. While these figurines are often on display throughout the year, they’re wheeled out in droves on ‘Day of The Dead’.

Sharing Stories of The Dead

Throughout the festival, families share funny memories and anecdotes about their deceased loved ones. The inclination to share funny stories comes from the notion that those who have died would prefer to be remembered happily, rather than despairingly.

Wrap Up

So ‘Day of The Dead’ sounds pretty special, doesn’t it? A time to remember the people you love who are no longer here – joyfully, rather than sombrely – through food, flowers, colourful dress ups and a range of festivities. Gosh, wouldn’t it be incredible to be in Mexico for ‘Day of The Dead’?! We’re definitely adding this one to our bucket list.

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