The topic might sound confusing but trust me once you reach the end, you’ll learn a lot of things about Day of the Dead. I know this topic raises a lot of questions in your mind and to solve them out I have jotted down everything you should know about this day and how it is an important part of Mexican traditions.

Moreover, if you’re curious to learn more about Mexico, then here’s a Mexico travel guide, that’ll help you out. Not just information, this guide will also help you figure out what you should do, eat and see in this North American country. 

What is the Day of the Dead?

The Day of the Dead festival, also known as “Día de Muertos” in Spanish, is a public holiday in Mexico and is celebrated on 1st and 2nd November every year. This day is a major part of Mexican culture. Additionally, it is believed as a day when the deceased family and friends come and meet the living and give them their blessings. The day is also seen as a celebration of life and death, and celebrated with joy all over Latin America. 

The best part of this festival is that it arrives just a day after Halloween which makes the honoring even more joyful and delightful. Despite its similarity with All Saint’s Day and All Souls’ Day(Western Christian festivals), Day of the Day is taken as a day of happiness rather than mourning. People tend to take it as a moment of humor when they remember funny events and stories of their departed loved ones. 

So, overall this day is much away from tears but rather leaves a big smile on everyone’s faces.  

Origin and History

Day of the Dead history began in the 20th century when the Mexican president  Lázaro Cárdenas rebranded this day as a part of Spanish tradition, and made it the national symbol of the country. Later, it started to be taught in the nation’s school system and in 2008, it was inscribed in the List Of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.

There are still many arguments and different views regarding the festival. Some say the  traditions are related with indigenous pre-hispanic roots, while others call it more of a modern adaptation of European culture. The reason for comparing it with European traditions is because some festivities of Day of the Dead trace back to Medieval Europe from where the All Saint’s Day and All Souls’ Day originated from. 

Moreover, this evolving festival also has some traces of its past connected with Aztec people who are now called as a part of Central Mexico. Thousands of years before the celebration of this festival started, the Aztecs used skulls to honor the deceased and remember them with a sense of joy. 

Three millenniums ago, the Aztec, Toltec, and Mayans observed the death and dead bodies a part of life, and thought they should be honored and celebrated instead of being mourned. 

Later, the Nahua people of Central Mexico started believing that the dead people take a long path to reach “Chicunamictlán”, the Land of the Dead. So, they started leaving food supplies and water to aid the dead on their trek. Taking these traditions forward, the present day Latin Americans create altars near their living space and leave food and water on gravesites of the deceased.  

Local Traditions and Festivities

As soon as Halloween ends, the mood and enthusiasm for the Day of the Dead festival plunges in the United States, Latin America, and of course Mexico. As the day begins, the living come together, participate in parades, and honor their dead family.  

  • Altars

During this festival, the Mexican people start building an altar near their home and decorate it with skulls, colorful flowers, pictures, and memorabilia of their dead loved ones. In addition, they also keep their favorite food supplies and water as ofrendas(offerings), believing they will accept it and give blessings to the living people.

  • Calaveras

A common symbol of Day of the Dead in Spanish is the skull, also known as Calaveras to honor the dead. As a part of celebration, people do skull painting on their faces, and offer chocolate and sugar skulls including the name of the recipient in the altar as well as to the living people. 

  • Local Traditions

The traditions of the festival may vary from city to city. The festivities in a few cities are different and adaptable if the deceased is a child rather than an adult. 

In Ocotepec, locals welcome visitors in exchange of wax candles and offer them traditional dishes like tamales and atole in order to honor the recently dead loved ones.  

Another unusual Day of the Dead tradition involving youngsters, is La Danza de los Viejitos (the Dance of the Old Men), where boys and young men are dressed as grandfathers jumping and dancing with enthusiasm and energy. 

5 Movies Portraying Day of the Dead 

Every festival whether it’s Christmas or the Day of the Dead, is equally important for Christians and obviously, filmmakers take it as an honor to portray these beautiful celebrations through their films. That being said, here’s a list of five movies dedicated to value this glorious day. 

  1. Coco

Release Date- November 22, 2017

This movie portrays Mexican culture and traditions in the most creative way with a touch of animation. Being the most loved film by children and even adults it has opened a gateway of celebrations in America more than ever before. Earlier, Day of the Dead in Spanish was just a name really paid attention to. But now, it has gained popularity and love of Latin Americans. 

  1. Specter

Release Date- November 20, 2015

If you have to explain to someone, outside Latin America, about the Day of the Dead festival, then you certainly can point out the opening sequel of James’ Bond Specter to them. The reason is, the movie portrays mixed scenes of the festival’s parade, and will make the viewer feel as if they are an actual part of the festivities. 

  1. The Book of Life

Release Date- October 17, 2014

Although many scenes of this movie might confuse you about the traditions of this festival, you will still love watching this animation wonder. The best part of this film is that despite such confusion, it manages to seamlessly portray Mexican Culture and give it a look of a perfect fairytale. The movie will also make you realize the international fame Day of the Dead has received in the past few years.  

  1. Macario

Release Date- June 9, 1960

Being the first Mexican film to win an Oscar, Macario really did a number in showcasing the moodiness and excitement that plunges up when the festival arrives. Moreover, the story portrays the 18th century’s Mexico when it was still tucked with a former name, New Spain. Although it was an adoption of a novel by Bruno Tavern, it eventually turned out to be a great success for the country.  

  1. Día de los Muertos/ Day of the Dead (Documentaries)

Release Date- September 29, 2020

Fortunately, there are plenty of documentaries showcasing Day of the Dead in Mexico. And as a contribution, a documentary was pictured and released in 2020. Same as other films, this one also represents the sheer festivities and joyful celebrations which take place on this day. From incredible parades to calavera skull painting on faces everything is shown in the finest manner.