Dia de los Muertos: A celebration of life and death in Mexico

In Mexico during the month of October, locals will be gearing up to celebrate the country's most well-known holiday: Dia de los Muertos. If you're visiting Mexico at the time, it's a truly fascinating holiday to observe. But what's it all about?

What is Dia De Los Muertos?

Dia de los Muertos, aka Day of the Dead, is a holiday celebrated in Mexico, all about remembering and honouring loved ones who have passed away. But rather than being a sombre, sad affair, the holiday is actually a joyful and colourful celebration of life.

When does it take place?

The celebrations actually take place across three days, from October 31st to November 2nd. The original Aztec holiday was actually a month long, but when Mexico became a Catholic country, the celebration settled across All Saints Day and All Souls Day – the first two days of November. Celebrations in the run-up to the holiday itself tend to occur from 28th October.

What’s the reasoning behind the holiday?

In Mexican culture, mortality and death has always carried much cultural significance. It dates from Aztec times, who believed in death as a part of the cycle of existence.

How do Mexicans celebrate it?

Altars covered in elaborate decorations, often representing things of importance to their lost relatives, are put up in family homes. Mexicans will also visit the graves of deceased relatives to pay their respects and leave offerings. The majority of celebrations will take place in private family homes, although there are also festivities that occur in public spaces - in larger cities, there are often parades. 

What kind of offerings are presented?

Sugar skulls and flowers are both common offerings, alongside the favourite foods and drinks of those who have passed away.

Where does the skull imagery associated with it originate from?

The origins of skulls being part of Dia de los Muertos date back to times when they were kept as trophies, and used during spiritual ceremonies and rituals. The skull imagery we associate with the holiday today came from Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada. His female skeleton artwork became an iconic image of the Mexican Revolution.

Why do people associate it with Halloween?

Although both have a couple of similarities in terms of imagery and basic subject matter, Dia de los Muertos is actually very separate from Halloween. The Mexican celebration focuses on celebrating the lives of lost family members, whereas Halloween customs are more towards the malevolent side of death and spirituality.

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