The Day of The Dead in Mexico


Have you ever wondered why the Day of the Dead is so well known? This Mexican celebration reminds us of how much we are passing through; but it also makes us see that death is part of life and that we must celebrate it.

The Day of the Dead is a Mexican tradition of pre-Hispanic origin. The most important days are the 1st and 2nd of November. But lately, preparations are beginning several weeks beforehand and the beauty and complexity of this celebration has caught everyone's attention. In fact, UNESCO named it the Patrimonio inmaterial de l'humanité in 2008.


It's a fact: no one escapes death. However, despite the pain their presence can cause, our indigenous peoples have learned to perceive it as a stage in which we must rejoice, as the writer Mario Benedetti would say, "death is only a symptom of life". As proof of this, Mexicans have a celebration known as "Day of the Dead."

This celebration is at the origin of the pre-Hispanic era. During this period, many Mesoamerican ethnic groups worshipped death worship. Among them, the Mexicans, whose gods responsible for defining the destiny of souls were Mictecacíhuatl and Mictlantecuhtli. Both were lords of the Mictlan or "place of the dead". However, to get here, the souls had to overcome a series of obstacles in order to reach eternal rest.

According to the "Códice Florentino", Mictlán was divided according to the way of death. For example, the warriors who had died on the battlefield went to Tonatiuh Ichan (House of the Sun). Another site was Cincalco (House of the God Tonacatecutli). These are the ones who died as infants because they were so young that they were considered innocent.

However, in order for the souls to begin the journey, the living were responsible for accompanying them by means of a ritual. It began with the death of a neighbor. The death was announced by shouts and screams from the elderly women of the community. Afterwards, the bulk or body was symbolically fed with the most exquisite delicacies.

After four days, the body was taken away for burial or cremation. From that moment on, the soul began the difficult journey. Then, every year for four years, ostentatious ceremonies took place at the place where the ashes or the body of the deceased were placed. Thus, this complex ritual not only helped the souls to rest, but also facilitated the mourning process of the parents.

With the arrival of the European population, this ritual underwent a process of modification. The feast of the God of the Underworld joined the celebration of the deceased and the process was reinvented until it was conceived as we now know it.

It should be noted that some of the elements that stand out on this day are the offerings and the "calaveritas literarias".


Day of the Dead offerings are altars of pre-Hispanic origin. Altars dedicated to different deities and were placed on different dates. However, that of the Lord of the Dead, Mictlantecuhtli, was celebrated in the month we now know in November. This coincidence was used by the evangelizers during the colony to make a syncretism between Christianity and the indigenous religious beliefs.

Originally, the altars were set a few days before November 1 and 2, that is, October 30 or 31, and they remained until November 3. It is now very common that, due to the creative effort invested in placing them, they are placed before and removed later. Although November 1st and 2nd are still the main days. According to tradition, on these two dates we visit all the souls who have been detached from their bodies, that is to say our deceased.


Photographs of the deceased: it is very common to place portraits of beloved people who are no longer with us.

Incense or Copal: the smoke that releases the Copal or incense guides the dead so that they can reach us.

Candles: these represent fire and light. Like incense, they function as guides for souls.

Drinks: water and other drinks preferred by the deceased.

Cempasúchil Flower: this flower has a long, spongelike appearance and is also known as the "twenty-petalled flower". They are mainly used to decorate or create paths that guide the spirits of our dead.

Calaveriras: in ancient times, real skulls were used. They were later replaced by skulls made of sugar, chocolate or Amaranth. Each skull represents a deceased person.

Bread of the dead: delicious, the bread of the dead is the representation of the skeleton of the deceased.


The "Calaveritas literarias" are written in verse. They began to be written during the nineteenth century and became very popular in the twentieth. They are made to talk about death with a good sense of humour. We usually dedicate them to our loved ones, but they are also used with social and historical themes.


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