Day of the Dead around the world in 2024

Day of the Dead around the world in 2024
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Day of the Dead
  Dates of Day of the Dead around the world
2025 MexicoNov 2
Mexico Sun, Nov 2National Holiday
2024 MexicoNov 2
Mexico Sat, Nov 2National Holiday
2023 MexicoNov 2
Mexico Thu, Nov 2National Holiday
2022 MexicoNov 2
Mexico Wed, Nov 2National Holiday
2021 MexicoNov 2
Mexico Tue, Nov 2National Holiday

El Día de los Muertos is A unique Mexican celebration of dead ancestors

Related holidays

When is the Day of the Dead?

Known in Spanish as 'El Día de los Muertos', this unofficial but widely observed holiday is celebrated on November 2nd each year, primarily in the Central and Southern regions of Mexico.

It is a holiday that focuses on remembering family members and friends who have passed away.

Traditions of the Day of the Dead

Every year, on November 1st (All Saints Day) and November 2nd (All Souls Day), something unique takes place in many areas of Mexico: Day of the Dead festivities. While it's strange for most of us to accept the fact that "death" and "festivities" can go hand-in-hand, for most Mexicans, the two are intricately entwined.

This all stems from the ancient indigenous peoples of Mexico (Purepecha, Nahua, Totonac, and Otomí) who believed that the souls of the dead return each year to visit with their living relatives - to eat, drink and be merry. Just like they did when they were living.

The festival to mark the return of the dead that would develop into the modern Day of the Dead took place in the ninth month of the Aztec calendar, which was around the start of August. 

Tempered somewhat by the arrival of the Spaniards in the 15th century, current practice calls for the deceased children (little angels) to be remembered on the previous day (November 1st, All Saints Day) with toys and colorful balloons adorning their graves. And the next day, All Souls Day, adults who have died are honored with displays of the departed's favorite food and drinks, as well as ornamental and personal belongings. Flowers, particularly the zempasúchil (an Indian word for a special type of marigold) and candles, which are placed on the graves, are supposed to guide the spirits home to their loved ones.

Bread of the Dead

Pan de Muerto (“Bread of the Dead”) is a traditional Mexican sweet bread that is commonly made during the Day of the Dead. The offerings left for the dead usually consist of what that person enjoyed when they were alive. In addition to the deceased’s favorite food and drink, a loaf of Pan de Muerto is also placed as an offering.

Other symbols include the elaborately-decorated pan de muerto (a rich coffee cake decorated with meringues made to look like bones), skull-shaped candies and sweets, marzipan death figures, and papier maché skeletons and skulls. (the Nahua-speaking peoples of pre-Columbian Mexico saw the skull as a symbol of life - not death.) Today, these macabre symbols and other similar items fill the shops and candy stalls by mid-October. During this time, homes are often decorated in the same manner as the graves.

This may all seem morbid and somewhat ghoulish to those who are not part of that culture. But, for Mexicans who believe in the life/death/rebirth continuum, it's all very natural. this is not to say that they treat death lightly. They don't. It's just that they recognize it, mock it, even defy it. Death is part of life and, as such, it's representative of the Mexican spirit and tradition which says: "Don't take anything lying down - even death!"

First, the graves and altars are prepared by the entire family, whose members bring the departed's favorite food and drink. Candles are lit, the ancient incense copal is burned, prayers and chants for the dead are intoned and then drinks and food are consumed in a party/picnic-like atmosphere. At 6:00 pm, the bells begin to ring (every 30 seconds), summoning the dead. They ring throughout the night. At sunrise, the ringing stops and those relatives who have kept the night-long vigil, go home.

The most vivid and moving Day of the Dead celebrations take place on the island of Janitzio in Lago de Pátzcuaro. Here, at the crack of dawn on November 1st, the Purepechan Indians get the festivities going with a ceremonial duck hunt. At midnight, the cooked duck and other zesty edibles are brought to the cemetery in the flickering light of thousands of candles. Those visitors who come are in for an awesome spectacle as the women pray and the men chant throughout the chilly night. Other candle-lit ceremonies take place in the nearby towns of Tzintzuntzan (the ancient capital of the Purepechan people), Jaráuaro and Erongarícuaro.

History of the Day of the Dead

The Day of the Dead dates back to the ancient Aztec custom of celebrating the dead. The Aztecs were a Mesoamerican (a region that covers central Mexico through Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and northern Costa Rica) culture from 1300 AD that lasted until 1521 AD. Some historians argue that the roots of Day of the Dead stem from celebrating fearsome underworld gods, in particular the goddess Mictecacihuatl.

Other historians argue that Day of the Dead is revivalist, in so far as it’s based on an Aztec belief system, created by President Lázaro Cárdenas del Río (1895 to 1970) to promote Mexican Nationalism in the 20th Century.

Día de Muertos has been observed across all of Mexico since the 1960s when the Mexican government made it a national holiday based on educational policies.

In 2008, the tradition was inscribed in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, & Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

20th-century printer and cartoonist José Guadalupe Posada’s La Calavera Catrina, Elegant Skull, was adapted into the holiday as one of the most recognizable icons.  It depicts a female skeleton adorned with makeup and dressed in fancy clothes.

Did you know?

Three facts about Day of the Dead

Day of the Dead used to be celebrated over the summer, and it dates back hundreds of years to an Aztec festival and the goddess Mictecacihuatl

Poems and drawings are sometimes created to honour the dead on the Day of the Dead. These short poems are known as calaveras, which means skulls

In some parts of Mexico, children celebrate the Day of the Dead in a similar way as Halloween, going from house to house and asking for small gifts of candles or money

More facts about Day of the Dead

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