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El Dia de Los Muertos

Fast Facts
  • Location: Held all over Mexico
  • Significance: Event
  • Attraction Type: Festivals, Dances, Special rituals for the Dead, Masks
  • How to Reach: You can see it at any part of Mexico, however Mexico City is a popular destination.
El Dia de Los Muertos is Mexican celebration devoted to the Dead. However, presently the festival has expanded from Mexico to other parts of the world where there is a substantial Mexican population. It is somewhat similar to the All Saint’s Day or the All Soul’s Day, and corresponds to the date of the Catholic holiday for the same celebrations on November 2.

Traditional Celebrations of the El Dia de Los Muertos

A number of events are traditionally held to celebrate the Day of the Dead, many of them with a distinctly humorous touch. In all parts of the event, though, the image of the skull dominates. Usually, there is a mixture of the solemn and the ludicrous in all parts of the celebrations. The idea behind the celebrations is to attract the deceased to the present world and thus make it easier to appease them, ask their advice and communicate with them in a general way. The rituals associated with the Day of the Dead have changed over the years, and various aspects of Mexican culture have reflected them in the mode of the celebrations.

Time for El Dia de Los Muertos

The Festival of the Day of the Dead is held in the ninth month of the Aztec calendar, corresponding roughly to the beginning of the month of August. However, now two days are dedicated to the celebration of the day of the Dead in most parts of the Mexico. November 1, the first day of the celebration is traditionally devoted to infants. It is a touching ceremony, where godparents set a table in the parent’s home with victuals of all kinds, rosaries and candles. Dancing with colorful costumes and masks are also common.

November 2 is set aside for the adult deceased. Unlike the solemn tone that is characteristic of the Infant’s day, this day exhibits a mix of the ludicrous with the serious. Many people, at the midnight of Novemeber 2, light candles and ride small boats with wings to the Janitzio, an island in the middle of lake. This island has a cemetery, where many rituals are held in traditional ways. What to do on El Dia de Los Muertos

Despite regional variations, there are certain common ways in which the festival is celebrated. Some of the common ways are:

  • Setting up of the altar: An altar dedicated to the dead is set up in every home. It usually contains the Christian cross, statues and pictures of the Virgin Mary, along with pictures of the deceased. Families gather around the altar or the shrine, and the celebrants wear shell on their clothings. Dance is an integral part of the celebrations, with the belief that the noise of the shells emitted while dancing will raise the dead from their slumber.
  • Visit to the Burial Ground: A visit to the burial ground follows this family ritual. Gravestones of the dearly departed are visited by family members. The graves are cleaned, prayers are held and Calaveras are read. Calaveras, literally meaning the skull, are short poems dedicated to the anecdotes collected from the lives of the deceased. This adds a distinctly amusing touch to the festivities. This ritual has its roots in the 18th and the 19th centuries, and is made after the style of the famous Calaveras made by famous Mexican illustrator Jose Guadalupe Posada. Theatrical presentations are also made to grace the occasion.
  • The Catrina, is a female dandy, believed to be a companion to the dead. This is another unique and distinctive touch to the festival. Women dress up in stylish period costumes and put on masks. The Catrina is believed to have its roots in the figure of the Aztec goddess Mictecacihuati, the ‘Lady of the Dead’.
  • Special food is an integral part of the El Dia de Los Muerto celebrations. Chocolates and other food items are made in the shape of the skull, the dominating icon of the celebrations.


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