Día de muertosDay of the DeadCelebrations Around the World

El Día de Muertos or Day of the Dead is a Mexican celebration. Mexicans and those of Mexican heritage celebrate it around the world, especially in the United States.

U 2008, UNESCO inscribed this tradition in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This means that UNESCO recognizes the importance of a cultural practice or expression to demonstrate the diversity of our common heritage and raise awareness about its importance.

What is the Día de Muertos celebration about?

During this two-day celebration, Mexicans celebrate the lives of those that have left their human existence. It is a day to remember family and friends that have died and to help them crossing to the spiritual world.

When is the day of the dead?

It is a two-day celebration happening every year on November 1 i 2.

For how long has the day of the dead existed?

The rituals celebrating the deaths of ancestors were observed by pre-Hispanic civilizations.

Día de Muertos has its origins in both the Aztec tradition (the festival for Mictecacihuatl, the Queen of Mictlanthe underworld of the Aztec mythologywho rules over the afterlife with her husband Mictlantecuhtli) and the Catholic All Saints Day (Novembra 1) and All Souls Day (Novembra 2).

Día de muertos traditions


In their houses, most Mexicans prepare an “ofrenda”. Ofrendas are offerings set up to remember and honor the memory of their ancestors. It is also common for schools, preduzeća, government buildings and churches to set up ofrendas.

Mexican ofrenda. Photo by Eneas de Troya

Before preparing an altar, the house is thoroughly cleaned to receive thevisitors”.

The ofrenda is set on a table, covered with a fine tablecloth, preferably white. Then the papel picado, made of cut tissue paper, is set over the cloth.

Symbolism of the Ofrenda

Papel picado: Delicately decorated tissue paper represents wind.

Candles, one for each deceased relative. Their light is to guide them on their way back to the land of the living.

Mexican marigolds called cempasúchil (a Nāhuatl word meaningtwenty flowers”). Flowers represent the briefness of life.

Salt and water are also essential; the water helps relieving the thirst of the souls, tired from their long trip. The salt purifies and cleanses the spirits.

Burning copal (a type of incense) to elevate prayers to God.

Pumpkin seeds or amaranth seeds as snacks for the visiting souls.

Pan de muerto, special bread eaten during these days, represents the soil and earth. Takođe, its circle shape symbolizes the circle of life.

Some people add blankets, pillows or a humble mat (petate) for the souls to rest after a long journey.

Other items often seeing in the ofrendas include: Pictures of the deceased, toys for the angelitos (little angel or souls of little kids), tequila, mezcal, pulque and atole, cigarete, chocolates or candy, sugar skulls, fruits, tamales, mole, i sl.

Visiting the dead at the cemetery

People go to cemeteries to be with the souls of their family members. They build private altars containing the favorite foods and beverages, as well as photos and memorabilia of the departed. Celebrations can take a humorous tone, as celebrants remember funny events and anecdotes about the departed.

Watch this video by the British Museum about the Mexican Day of the Dead which explores the meaning of this celebration.


Representations of calacas (skeletons) and calaveras (skulls) are common everywhere on Día de Muertos: masks, makeup, sugar skulls, posters, and decorative figurines with the shape of catrinas. Papel picado (described above) is another element that Mexicans use to decorate for this day.

How can you join this celebration?

Mexicans celebrating these dates are always happy to receive friends and family, including those that are not familiar with the Day of the Dead.

Things to keep in mind

  • Remember that Day of the Dead and Halloween celebrated two different things.
  • Do not wear a costume during this celebration, remember this is not a Mexican extension of Halloween.
  • If your friends invite you to celebrate this day, dress up! This is a formal family celebration.
  • The Day of the Dead is not meant to be a sad or frightening holiday. It is meant to be an uplifting time to remember loved ones who have died.

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