infamous "Day of the Dead" or dia de los muertos
actually takes place over a period of five days from October 28th
to November 2nd. It is the largest and most elaborate celebration
in mexico all year long, even more grand than Christmas. In the
past, this period marked the time when the deceased could return
to the world of the living and visit their loved ones, but now it
is usually a time to celetbrate, remember, and pray for their souls.
celebration of dia de los muertos is an old indigenous
belief that the Spanish tried and failed to suppress. Now it is
a quasi-Christian holiday in Mexico, merging with All Souls' Day
on November 1st. The festival's most important symbol, the skull,
probably comes from the Aztec god of death, Mictlantecutli, who
was depicted with a skull-like face on many artifacts. Now it is
a symbol to celebrate death and the dearly departed. It is not uncommon
to see skulls or skeletons sold as candy, toys, masks, or dolls
during this time.
skulls decorated with frosting and foil
the bulk of Mexico's population is Catholic, they believe that all
souls go to one of three places when they die, heaven, purgatory,
or hell, dia de los muertos is more of a festive or family
event. They pray, clean off family graves and decorate them. As a
general rule, the more urban area the more of a celebratory atmosphere
the festival has. For the areas that are more rural and/or indian,
the holiday is much more religious and spiritual.
of North America celebrates Halloween and some of that has trickled
down into Mexico. During the celebration of dia de los muertos,
it is not uncommon to see children running around in masks asking
passerbys for candy, small toys, or money while they hold out a
plastic pumkin-bowl or character-head.
Mexicans are concerned over the detrimental influence this will
have on the muertos celebration, but the parades and celebrations
are still strong and they don't seem like they will die out anytime
categories of deceased individuals are celebrated on different days.
28th: People who died violently, such as those who
were victims of accidents, homicides, or people who committed suicide.
October 29th: Those who died unbaptized.
October 31st: Children who died after being
baptized. (It is believed that upon death, they instantly became
little angels and are thereafter known as angelitos.)
November 1st: All adults not covered in
October 31st, it is said that the angelitos come back at
3pm and return to their graves at 3pm on November 1st, which is
the time the adults spirits return to the world.
the deceased lived their life determines how the friends and family
should decorate the altar (ofrenda) or grave. If the person
smoked or drank often in life, then the family would most likely offer
them a shotglass of mezcal and a pack of cigarettes. If they
had a favorite candy or food, this would be placed on the ofrenda,
as well. If they enjoyed gambling or fishing, a small plastic skeleton
engaged in this activity would adorn the tomb or ofrenda.
calavera, or skeleton, is an important symbol during dia
de muertos. Calaveras decorate the inside of shops and
shop windows engaged in every daily activity imaginable dressed as
judges, soldiers, housewives, soccer players, doctors, etc. Death,
and the skeleton as Death, is seen in a much different way by the
Mexicans than by most Westerners. It is seen in a mocking, cheerful
light. A symbol that can be as jovial as it is serious, it appears
countless times in countless ways during dia de muertos as
wood, paper mache, sugar, plastic, etc.
are two essential components of the muertos festival: the cemeteries
and the parades, or comparsas. I would recommend seeing
at least two of both. Make a visit to the cemeteries both during
the day and during the night when they come alive with candlelight.
my friend and I were down in Oaxaca for the "Day of the Dead"
celebration, we soon discovered that while there was a lot going
on for the celebration, it was hard to find out where and especially
when any of it was. Everyone seemed to
have a different opinion on the matter.
great areas to experience dia de los muertos are listed
below. If anyone out there knows of any others, please email
me and let me know so I can list them. These places are all in the
Xoxocotlan (village cemetery)
2) Santa María Atzompa (village cemetery)
3) San Miguel (This is the cemetery of the
city of Oaxaca.)
4) San Felipe del Agua (village cemetery)
Etla Valley (This is supposed to be one of
the best places to see the parade. Find out from Oaxaca's local tourist
agencies when the main parade is supposed to take place.)
2) Oaxaca City (The large parade here was
difficult to pin down because so many people told us the wrong date/time,
but it was on November 1st at 5pm outside the cathedral. All the photos
in the Parade section were taken from this