Day of the Dead Facts

Halloween is tomorrow, and then the Day of the Dead festivities start here in Mexico.  Here are some facts to help you understand the Day of the Dead holiday here.

Day of the Dead Facts

Photo Credit: Catrinas by Tomascastelazo

Photo Credit: Catrinas by Tomascastelazo

These Day of the Dead Facts explain the basics of Mexico’s most famous holiday, Dia de los Muertos. If you want to learn how to celebrate Day of the Dead, start here with:

Who – What – When – Where – Why – How

Each section contains links to further information, so that you can easily access all of the Day of the Dead information on this site.

Who started Day of the Dead?

 Dia de los Muertos originated centuries ago in Mexico, where it is still widely celebrated to this day. The holiday is a blend of pre-Hispanic indigenous beliefs and Spanish Catholic beliefs. You can read more about Dia de los Muertos history here.

Who celebrates Day of the Dead?

Photo credit: Randal SheppardPhoto credit: Randal Sheppard

Dia de los Muertos is celebrated throughout Mexico. Many other countries around the world celebrate similar (or hybrid) versions of Day of the Dead as well, by having special days for honoring the dead. These celebrations occur in various countries in Central and South America, Europe and Asia, where they celebrate the holiday according to their own local customs.

Day of the Dead has also taken hold in areas with a high Mexican immigrant population, particularly in California, Texas, Arizona and other parts of the United States.

Many people around the world, even if they are not directly connected to Mexican culture, are drawn to the concept and imagery of Mexico’s Day of the Dead, so the holiday seems to continually gain in popularity as more people learn about it.

What is Dia de los Muertos?

Dia de los Muertos is a holiday for remembering and honoring those who have passed. It is a festive, joyous time of celebration. Day of the Dead is Mexico’s most important holiday, which means they invest a lot of time and money into celebrating Dia de los Muertos, moreso than any other holiday.

When is Day of the Dead?

The Day of the Dead falls on November 1 and 2 of each year, coinciding with the Catholic holidays All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day.

Although November 2nd is the official date for Day of the Dead, it is celebrated between October 31st and November 2nd. Usually the preparations (and some festivities) start even earlier than that. So really, the “Day” of the Dead can also be called the “Days” of the Dead, because the holiday spans more than one day.

Traditionally, November 1 is the day for honoring dead children and infants, and November 2 is the day for honoring deceased adults.

Where is Day of the Dead celebrated?

Cleaning and decorating graves Photo credit: AlejandroLinaresGarcia

Cleaning and decorating graves
Photo credit: AlejandroLinaresGarcia

The Day of the Dead is celebrated in both public and private spaces. It is most often celebrated in homes and graveyards.

  • In homes, people create altars to honor their deceased loved ones. In some places it is common to allow guests to enter the house to view the altar.
  • In graveyards, families clean the graves of their loved ones, which they then decorate with flowers, photos, candles, foods and drinks. People stay up all night in the graveyards, socializing and telling funny storiesabout their dead ancestors. Musicians are hired to stroll through the graveyard, playing the favorite songs of the dead.

In the public sphere, Day of the Dead celebrations can also take the form of street parties, parades, and festivals on university campuses.

Why do people celebrate Day of the Dead?

People celebrate Dia de los Muertos to honor their deceased loves ones. It is a loving ritual, full of joy and remembrance.

For those who did not grow up in a culture that celebrates such a holiday, these practices and rituals might seem odd. But bear in mind that in the US, it is common for people to visit the graves of their family members and friends who have left this earth, to leave flowers and to reconnect with their loved ones. Dia de los Muertos is similar to this common American practice – so you can see that the Day of the Dead is not that unusual.

Dia de los Muertos allows the dead to live again. During this time it is believed that the deceased return to their earthly homes to visit and rejoice with their loved ones.

Celebrating Day of the Dead Photo credit:

Celebrating Day of the Dead
Photo credit:

The Days of the Dead are celebrated as a way of retaining connections with the unseen world — a world we will all return to one day.

Most people celebrate Day of the Dead out of love and commitment to their loved ones, but some people celebrate this holiday out of fear! Mexico is rampant with folk tales that tell what happens if someone neglects their ancestors on Dia de los Muertos. If a spirit returns to find that no one has built an altar for them, or that their loved ones only left them paltry offerings, they will feel sad and angry… especially when they see what bounteous offerings other spirits received!

Neglected spirits may seek vengeance on those who have forgotten them. Additionally, many folk tales describe how those who ignore their deceased loved ones fall immediately ill and even meet their death shortly after the holiday.

So you see, there are some people in Mexico who participate in Dia de los Muertos out of fear and superstition instead of love!

How do people celebrate Day of the Dead?

The most common ways of celebrating Day of the Dead in Mexico include:

All-night celebration in graveyard Photo credit: Thelmadatter

All-night celebration
in graveyard
Photo credit: Thelmadatter

  • Setting up an altar with offerings
  • Cleaning and decorating graves
  • Holding all-night graveside vigils
  • Telling stories about the deceased
  • Making (or purchasing) and exchanging sugar skulls and other sweets

Day of the Dead customs in Mexico vary from town to town, and when celebrated abroad it also takes on its own unique flair in each community. It is usually a combination of rituals and introspection that ultimately takes on a joyous tone.

Day of the Dead celebrations now also include community festivals, parades, and street parties.


Thanks for reading,

Stewart Rogers USA-South Carolina

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