Complete Guide to the Day of the Dead in Mexico

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Mexican culture crosses borders. Celebrate memory over oblivion on the Day of the Dead with the most rooted tradition in Mexico. Find out more with iScribo.

The Day of the Dead in Mexico is an indigenous tradition whose roots go back to pre-Hispanic times. It is a joyous festival dominated by homemade costumes and involves the transitory return of the souls of the dead. They return to the world of the living, to the homes of their relatives, to nourish themselves with the food offered to them on the altars lovingly set up in their honour.

The Day of the Dead is a celebration of life, to use the antithesis. This popular tradition encompasses several material and philosophical meanings in which the main thing is to bring the family together and pay homage to those who are no longer with us.

Origin of the Festivity

The festivity is celebrated on 1st and 2nd November. November 1st is All Saints’ Day for Catholics, so the celebration is dedicated to children or muertos chiquitos, and on November 2nd, some Christian groups celebrate All Souls’ Day, which venerates adults.

The Day of the Dead involves the coexistence of Catholics and indigenous people. On the one hand, the Spanish brought Catholicism to Latin America, and on the other hand, the original indigenous peoples, such as the Zapotecs and Mixtecs, included the concept of veneration of the dead in the Catholic calendar. This date coincides with the end of the cultivation of maize, Mexico’s main crop.

The Altars for the Offering

Tombs and cemeteries are decorated with flowers, sometimes even altars are set up in the same place as in the indigenous culture. In this way, the souls are transcended on the right path after death.

Marigold flowers (called cempasuchil flowers in México) decorate the offerings, ofrendas, on the altars along with papel picado (carved garland), a dish of the food that the loved one liked the most, sugar skull sweets, pan de muerto (Day of the Dead’s bread) and mole. The altars also include a photograph of the loved ones being honoured. Symbolic of the adaptation of the culture to pre-Hispanic times is the inclusion of incense to scent the scene.

A small path of marigolds with candles is also made so that the souls do not get lost in the attempt to reach their families. Marigolds are born in autumn and their orange and yellow petals mark the path that the dead must follow. This flower holds the warmth of the sun and the scent it gives off calls to the souls.

Altars usually have several levels. The two-tiered ones usually recreate earth and heaven, and the three-tiered ones include heaven, earth and purgatory. There is also a seven-tiered version that represents the seven steps to enter the afterlife or the seven deadly sins. Here we have another example of the coexistence of indigenous and Catholic cultures.

Each offering includes elements that correspond to the four elements: earth, water, air and fire. 

Influence Around the World

The Day of Dead’s make-up and homemade costumes have crossed borders and are used in celebrations all over the world. In the United States, Mexican make-up is a staple of Halloween parties.

Mexican culture derived from the Day of Dead has also been reflected in the seventh art with films such as Disney’s Coco and Spectre, from the James Bond franchise.

Millions of tourists flock every year to see how this traditional and unique holiday is celebrated, whether in small towns or in Mexico City, with its parade commemorating the day. Whatever the case, if you are visiting Mexico during these days, always do so with the respect it deserves.

Day of the Dead, a UNESCO Heritage Site  

Since 2008, the Day of the Dead in Mexico has been part of UNESCO’s cultural heritage because of the importance and significance of the festivity, which expresses both contemporary and living traditions, integrates cultures, and is communal and representative. As you can tell, Mexican culture is rich. Don’t forget to use iScribo’s spelling and grammar checker to improve the level of your Spanish documents. iScribo distinguishes between the different variants of Spanish. Check it out with our artificial intelligence-based tool.

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