Day of the Dead, Full Article

All you always wanted to know about Día de Muertos or (Day of the dead) is here! The history, the symbolisms, the cultural impact the traditions and how to and where to celebrate it.

In This Article

Dia de Muertos 

Día de Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a traditional Mexican holiday celebrated on November 1 and 2. It is a time to honor and remember deceased loved ones. The celebration is a blend of pre-Hispanic indigenous beliefs and Catholic traditions.

The holiday is celebrated with colorful decorations, including altars, flowers, and sugar skulls. Families gather to share stories and memories of their loved ones. Traditional foods such as pan de muerto (bread of the dead) and calaveras (sugar skulls) are prepared. Marigolds, known as the flower of the dead, are used to decorate graves and altars.

On the night of November 1, people visit cemeteries to clean and decorate the graves of their loved ones. Candles are lit and offerings of food, drinks, and flowers are placed on the graves. People often stay up all night to keep vigil and remember their loved ones.

On the morning of November 2, families gather to share a meal and celebrate the lives of their loved ones. Music, dancing, and storytelling are all part of the festivities.

Día de Muertos is a time to remember and honor those who have left us and even though it would be in many cultures a solemn day, in Mexico people see the bright side of things and make it a celebration with music, dance and drinks. 


The celebration dates back to pre-Columbian times. The Aztecs and other indigenous cultures celebrated a month-long festival dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl, the Lady of the Dead. During this time, they would honor their deceased relatives and friends by making offerings of food, flowers, and other items.

In the 16th century, the Spanish conquistadors brought with them the Catholic tradition of All Souls’ Day, which was celebrated on November 2nd. This day was eventually blended with the indigenous traditions to create the modern celebration of Día de Muertos.

Today, the celebration of Día de Muertos is a vibrant and colorful event that takes place over two days, November 1st and 2nd. 

How to celebrate

Today, the celebration of Día de Muertos is a vibrant and colorful event that takes place over the first two days of november. Naturally every person and family celebrates in their own way but there are certain traditions that people can follow. Traditionally on the 1st of november the children dressed up as skeletons or alebrijes and went door to door asking for fruits or money by singing a song or a short comedic poem, that tradition was called (pedir calaverita). Now with the “recently” new blend to the festivities of halloween kids dress up in a more free style and ask for candy since the 31 of october. As well on the first day of november, families gather to remember and honor their deceased loved ones. They build altars adorned with photos, flowers, and offerings of food and drink (that the person used to love in life).

On the second day, they visit the graves of their relatives and decorate them with flowers and candles, the cemeteries are usually filled with vibrant lights, decorations and music.

Thinks you can try if you are in Mexico for this festivities are

  • Visit a Cemetery: Everybody is welcome, you don’t need an invitation but if you are shy you can look up on the internet what are the best decorated cemeteries around you.
  • Make an Altar: the intention is what matters, so even if you are not Mexican and are not sure about how to do it, give it your own twist, and set a table with a picture of your loved ones and the treats they used to love.
  • Eat Traditional Foods: Traditional foods are an important part of the celebration. Skulls (usually made of sugar, chocolate or amaranth), Pan de muerto meaning bread of the dead (decorated with sugar and shapes to symbolise bones and skulls). Tamales, and mole are also popular dishes.
  • Participate in a Parade: Many towns and cities in Mexico will host parades to celebrate Día de Muertos. The parades often feature colorful costumes and traditional music.
  • Attend a Festival: Many towns and cities in Mexico will host festivals to celebrate Día de Muertos. The festivals often feature traditional music, dancing, and food.


Marigolds: Marigolds are the most iconic flower associated with the Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico. They are believed to attract the souls of the dead to the offerings. The bright orange and red colors of the flower is also associated with the sun or fire, which is believed to be the source of life lighting the way of the dead to our world.

Skulls: Skulls are a common symbol of death and mortality in Mexican culture. They are often used to decorate altars and gravesites during the Day of the Dead celebration. The skulls are meant to represent the deceased and remind people to remember and honor their loved ones who have passed away.

Papel Picado: Papel picado is a type of decorative paper cut-out that is used to decorate altars and gravesites during the Day of the Dead celebration. The colorful paper cut-outs often feature images of skulls, flowers, and other symbols associated with the holiday.

Pan de Muerto: (Bread of the dead) A bread made of the usual ingredients but decorated with extra bread sticks that represent bones and a sphere on top that represents a skull.

Candles: Candles are used to light up the night during the Day of the Dead celebration. They are believed to help guide the souls of the dead back to their families. Candles are also used to represent the light of life and hope for the future.

La Catrina

La Catrina is a character in the form of a female skeleton dressed in a fancy hat and dress, and is often seen as a symbol of death and the afterlife. La Catrina is said to represent the idea that death is an inevitable part of life, and that it should be embraced and celebrated. She is also seen as a reminder to live life to the fullest, as death can come at any time. La Catrina is often depicted in artwork, and is a popular figure in Mexican culture. She is also seen as a symbol of the Mexican people’s resilience and strength in the face of death. La Catrina is a reminder to cherish life and to remember those who have passed away and today it is one of the most popular costumes for women during the day of the day and even in other cosplays events.   

Dia de Muertos in Guadalajara

Being one of the largest cities in Mexico there is plenty to do to celebrate this festivity like:

1. Visit the Panteón de Belén Cemetery: The Panteón de Belén Cemetery in Guadalajara is one of the most popular places to celebrate Día de Muertos. On the night of October 31st, families gather to decorate the graves of their loved ones with marigolds, candles, and other offerings.

2. Attend a traditional Día de Muertos parade: Every year, the streets of Guadalajara come alive with a traditional Día de Muertos parade. The parade features colorful costumes, traditional music, and dancing.

3. Visit the Museo de las Artes de la Universidad de Guadalajara: The Museo de las Artes de la Universidad de Guadalajara hosts a variety of events and exhibitions related to Día de Muertos. Visitors can learn about the history and traditions of the holiday, as well as view traditional altars and artworks.

4. Participate in a traditional altar-building workshop: Many local organizations in Guadalajara offer workshops on how to build traditional Día de Muertos altars. Participants learn about the symbolism and importance of the ones that lived before us.

Dia de Muertos in Oaxaca

Oaxaca is probably the most popular destination for Dia de Muertos for those who wish to leave their city, as the city itself and locations nearby offer a wide variety of attractions.  

1. Visit a Cemetery: One of the most important parts of celebrating Día de Muertos in Oaxaca is visiting the local cemetery and in this case there is no one better than the other, there are many options to choose from. Many families will bring offerings of food, flowers, and candles to honor their deceased loved ones.

2. Attend a Procession: During Día de Muertos, many towns in Oaxaca will host processions in honor of the dead. These processions often feature colorful costumes, music, and dancing.

3. Participate in Traditional Activities: Many towns in Oaxaca will host traditional activities such as face painting, sugar skull making, and candle making. These activities are a great way to get into the spirit of the holiday.

4. Enjoy Traditional Foods: Traditional foods such as tamales, mole, and pan de muerto are essential to celebrating Día de Muertos in Oaxaca. These dishes are often served with hot chocolate or atole.

5. Attend a Festival: Many towns in Oaxaca will host festivals in honor of the dead. These festivals often feature traditional music, dancing, and food.  

Dia de Muertos in Guanajuato

Another very popular destination for its beautiful architecture and locations to see within driving distance. 

1. Visit the city’s main cemetery, El Panteón de Santa Paula, to pay respects to the deceased.

2. Attend the traditional candlelight procession, known as the “Alumbrada”, which takes place in the evening of November 1st.

3. Visit the local markets to buy traditional decorations such as sugar skulls, marigolds, and papel picado.

4. Attend the traditional “Calavera Catrina” parade, which takes place on November 2nd.

5. Participate in the traditional “ofrenda” ceremony, where families create altars to honor their deceased loved ones.

6. Attend the traditional “Dance of the Dead” in San Miguel de Allende.

8. Participate in the traditional “Calavera Catrina” contest, where participants dress up as the iconic skeleton figure.  

Dia de Muertos in Morelia 

Morelia itself has a lot of interesting things to see during the celebration like: Panteón de San Francisco located in the heart of Morelia, and decorated with colorful altars and offerings for the deceased. The Festival de Calaveras is an annual event held in Morelia just for Día de Muertos. And activities such as face painting and sugar skull making and many more but the towns nearby deserve mention of their own:

  • Patzcuaro: a small charming town by the lake with the same name that is beautifully decorated for the octation.
  • San Janitzio Island: a tiny town island right in the middle of the lake where the locals make beautiful rituals in honor of their diseased ones. 
  • Tzintzuntzan: In the town the houses, buildings, graveyards, churches, ports, markets and even the nearby archeological site all take part in the celebration and are decorated with flowers, and candles. 

Dia de Muertos in Puebla 

Another large city with a long and complex history is also a wonderful point to enjoy the holiday.

1. Attend a traditional Día de Muertos parade: Every year, Puebla hosts a traditional Día de Muertos parade. The parade features colorful costumes, traditional music, and dancers. It’s a great way to experience the culture and traditions of the holiday.

2. Visit the Museo de la Revolución Mexicana: The Museo de la Revolución Mexicana in Puebla is a great place to learn about the history of Día de Muertos. The museum features a variety of exhibits and activities related to the holiday.

3. Enjoy traditional food: Día de Muertos is a great time to enjoy traditional Mexican food and Puebla is known for its delicious and unique dishes such as mole poblano, a rich and flavorful sauce made with a variety of ingredients or chiles en nogada, a pepper covered in cream and pomegranate representing the Mexican flag.  

4. Take a walking tour at Panteón Francés and Centro Histórico: the city and private companies offer them and it is worth taking them because as you understand they are only on this time of the year.

5. Museum Crawl Night: as you might have guessed, museums at night are not something very common but on this very day Puebla, the city hall and its museums collaborate and they are open and welcome visitors. 

Dia de Muertos in Merida 

Another very distinct twist of the celebration is Merida and the whole Yucatan Peninsula as their celebrations are in some way more in sync with the original prehispanic ways. 

1. Visit the Cemetery: As in every city, one of the most important traditions of Día de Muertos is to visit the cemetery and honor the deceased. In Mérida, the Panteon Florido is a popular destination for locals and visitors alike.

2. Attend a Procession: During Día de Muertos, many processions take place in Mérida. These processions are a way to honor the dead and celebrate their lives.

3. Participate in a Traditional Altar: Altars are a traditional way to honor the dead during Día de Muertos. In Mérida, many families create altars in their homes or in public spaces.

4. Participate in a Dance Performance: During Día de Muertos, many dance performances take place in Mérida specially in the main square and Parque de Santa Lucia. These performances are a way to honor the dead and celebrate their lives and this is a very “Maya” or indigenous ritual.

5. Attend a Festival: Mérida hosts several festivals during Día de Muertos, theater, cinema, music and dances are all part of it.

Dia de Muertos in Mexico City 

As the largest city in the country, it would be logical that most of the activities for The Day of the Dead take place here, but it would be a big understatement. The city is so big and so populated that it even has its own regions and “cultures” within the city but here we present the ones that could be considered the 3 most important and distinct interpretations the city has to offer.


Centuries ago Coyoacán used to be its own city before Mexico city grew so large and got “absorbed” by it. Because of that Coyoacan has its own city center, a distinct architecture and is considered the most culturally diverse and inclusive part of what is now Mexico city. It has been also home of many world renowned writers, poets, painters, politicians and more, including Frida Khalo, Diego Rivera, Octavio Paz, and Leon Trotsky. Because of all that the celebrations for Dia de Muertos in Coyoacan is every year different but every time very artistic orientated so in front of the main square and the by the Palace of Cortez, 3 main presentations for ofrendas are set: one for intellectuals and writers, one for visual artist and performers and one for movie personalities. 

The City’s Office usually holds other activities such as an offering of the dead proposed by young artists that will be installed inside the Palacio de Cortés, where what could be considered more classical music like harp, saxophone and violin concerts is offered in the portico of this building. There are also walks, stories and legends from the Chapel of San Mateo to San Diego Churubusco; children asking for calaveritas (candy) in every altar and presentation. The fair of pan de muerto and chocolate is there where you can enjoy those treats as well as the typical Coyoacan churro and classical interpretations like Mozart’s Requiem in the Parish of San Juan Bautista. 

Frida Khalo’s house is usually open to the public on that holiday (a ticket is required) and ofrendas in her honor and her husband (Diego Rivera) are set together with many other artist and the whole house/museum is themed for the holidays and various artefacts are also displayed. 


Xochimilco is also a place that used to be not part of Mexico City until much later after its foundation, it can be said that Xochimilco has the most distinct culture from other areas in Mexico City as originally it was a city built over canals that many exist to this day. The people centuries ago had their own language and ethnicity and of course their own traditions, today as Xochimilco is part of Mexico City many traditions are shared with the city and the country but still some of its authenticity still survives so for Dia de Muertos you can:  

1. Visit the Xochimilco Cemeteries: The Xochimilco Cemeteries are the main place to celebrate Día de Muertos in Xochimilco. Here, families come together to honor their deceased loved ones by decorating their graves with flowers, candles, and other offerings and it is not uncommon to hear the loud bands playing from the cemeteries from far away.

2. Participate in a Procession: On the night of October 31st, a procession of people dressed in traditional costumes will make its way through the streets of Xochimilco. Join in the procession and take part in the festivities.

3. Attend a Traditional Festival: During the day of November 1st, Xochimilco will host a traditional festival with music, dancing, and food. This is a great way to experience the culture and traditions of Día de Muertos.

4. Visit the Xochimilco Market: The Xochimilco Market is a great place to pick up traditional items for your Día de Muertos celebration. Here, you can find traditional food, decorations, and other items to help you celebrate.

5. Take a trip on the canals by Trajinera to the Chinampas: And perhaps the most unique festivity, the little boat called trajineras can take you to the man made islands called chinampas, that originally were far lands. Today they are very interesting visiting sites and during the Day of the Dead Festivities they are decorated to fit the season. 

City Center 

The largest gathering of people and the most extravagant and impressive ofrendas, sculptures, presentations and more are of course located here, even the city center can be divided into various interesting points and they are all dressed for the occasion .

By Monumento a la Revolucion you will find many street artists, specially dancers and musicians performing acts related to the Day of the Dead, usually they dress as skeletons, alebrijes, catrinas or like old aztec warriors in honor of their roots. 

Across Paseo de la Reforma there will be the annual calavera decorations where many private companies sponsor and display a big skull of their own, each is designed and decorated in unique and vibrant colors. There are also artisans selling souvenirs and temporary markets where you can get local candies and other quick snacks and drinks, and of course the Dia de Muertos Parade. 

In the Chapultepec Park you can also find the nature decorated with the typical colors, decoration, lights and flowers of Dia de Muertos, and kids dressed as their favorite character. 

But by far the biggest expositions are in the Zocalo, there you will be able to find the big ofrendas to Famous Mexicans of the past, they are set by the city with the help of volunteers, everything else that we mention of the other parts of the city can also be found here in one way or another and in general it can be described as a 3 day party. 

Besides those main attraction in Mexico City you can also take part in the typical activities like: 

  • Attend the traditional parade and procession that takes place in the Zocalo
  • Participate in the traditional activities such as face painting, sugar skull making, and candle lighting.
  • Sample the traditional food and drinks such as pan de muerto, tamales, and atole.
  • Visit the nearby cemeteries to pay respects to the deceased.
  • Participate in the traditional candlelight vigil.
  • Attend the traditional Mass and other religious ceremonies.
  • Visit the nearby museums and galleries to learn more about the history and traditions of Día de Muertos like the already mentioned house/museum Frida Khalo or Museo Kaluz, Museo de Arte Popular or Museo Dolores Olmedo.

We hope you enjoyed this article and that it motivates you to visit Mexico for the special day, we welcome you with open arms! And if you have any comments or questions you can leave them on the area below!

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