Halloween may be over for another year, but in Mexico, the festivities are just beginning. I am, of course, talking about Día de los Muertos: the Day of the Dead.

What is the Day of the Dead?

A skeleton figure dressed in traditional clothing during a Day of the Dead parade

Many people think the Day of the Dead and Halloween go hand in hand, but they are two very distinct events. The Day of the Dead is a joyful celebration of life; remembering deceased loved ones with alters and offerings, and showing no fear of death. Food offerings are made and houses decorated, and families visit the graves of relations to welcome them back to the mortal plane.

Dates for your calendar

A child standing in a street in Mexico wearing Day of the Dead makeup

The Day of the Dead is celebrated from 31st October to 2nd November, and is split into two main events.

Preparations begin from 31st October, and at midnight on 1st November (el Dia de los innnocentes), the gates of heaven are believed to open at midnight to allow the spirits of deceased children to reunite with their families for just 24 hours. On 2nd November, the spirits of adults come down to join them and enjoy the festivities prepared by family members.

What happens on the Day of the Dead?

A sugar skull on an altar in Mexico during the Day of the Dead

Paul Simpson / Flickr.com, CC BY-ND 2.0

Contrary to popular belief, the Day of the Dead isn’t a morbid occasion. It is an event characterised by colour, elaborate costumes and plenty of decoration.

In the home

Day of the Dead celebrations begin at home, where altars are created as a way to present offerings (ofrendas) to spirits. These offerings can be unique gifts of the deceased’s favourite foods and items, but also include more universal touches. Pan de muertos (bread baked into the shapes of skulls and figures), candles, incense, yellow marigolds (cempazuchitl) and, most importantly, a photograph of the departed, are all placed on altars across Mexico.

When the Day of the Dead is over and the spirits depart, family members enjoy the offerings with family, friends and neighbours.

In the community

One of the best things about the Day of the Dead is that, if you time your holiday to coincide with the festival, you can experience the captivating celebrations wherever you go.

Parades take to the streets and families gather in cemeteries, decorating graves with paper-cut banners (papel picado), fresh flowers and sugar skulls (candy calaveras). Even children take part in the vibrant parades: dancing with caricatures of death, feasting on sugar skulls, and respecting that life is brief and to be enjoyed.

It is little surprise this iconic festival has been placed on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. As a defining part of Mexican culture, it is a bucket-list event you would be mad to miss as part of a land-cruise package in North America.

If you would like to experience Mexico’s beauty and heritage for yourself, and visit stunning cruise destinations such as Cabo San Lucas and Cozumel, call our Cruise Concierge team on 0207 980 2848 to find your perfect itinerary.

Charlotte Varela

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