• Dylan Clements - Experienced Travel Planner

An Introduction to Day of the Dead in Mexico

by Rose Calderone & Galy Gutierrez

At the end of every October visitors from around the world flock to Mexico to witness the Day of the Dead celebrations. Rose Calderone, a 'Chicagoan' who has called Mexico home for the last 17 years gives us a fascinating insight into what this festivity is all about.

Mexican Day of the Dead has its origins in the indigenous cultures which celebrated rituals to help their

death cross to the Mictlán, the afterlife. When the Spanish arrived, Day of the Dead took elements from both cultures, indigenous and catholic and it turned into what we celebrate up to these days. Two days of celebration, a month of preparation, and a whole year of expectation.

This celebration takes place on the 1st of November and the 2nd of November of each year, in the catholic festivities, it’s “Day of All Saints” and “Day of the Animas”, respectively.

Even if there are similar festivities all around the world, the reason why Mexican “Day of the Dead” attracts so many people is for starters, the name, then there’s the variety of bread and candies and last but not least the humor and joy that surrounds the celebration.

When October begins Mexicans start thinking about where are they going to put up the altar for the ones that are no longer around because as they say “they are coming to visit” so they must be well received with everything they loved in life. They start buying and collecting things to put on the altar, Papel Picado, candies, food, decorations, clothing, and drinks.

Why do Mexicans celebrate death with such passion?

As Octavio Paz wrote: “To the people of New York, Paris, or London, “death” is a word that is never pronounced because it burns the lips. The Mexican, however, frequents it, jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it; it is one of his favorite toys and most steadfast love.” In México death is not the end, as our ancestors saw it, it is only a chapter finishing and letting another one begin.

The indigenous heritage takes an important part in this celebration in some states of the country such as Michoacán, Estado de México, and Oaxaca. These are widely known for their sophisticated and authentic celebrations. Their rituals have become part of the national identity, there are all kinds of demonstrations but all of them include colorful altars, bread, sugar skulls, candles, and flowers.

In the community of Tzintzuntzan, Michoacán the families go to the cemeteries and spend the whole night of the 1st in their loved ones’ graves, they sing, they dance, they eat and drink until morning waiting for them to come and feel their spirits again.

For Mexicans, life and death are inseparable and every time the first one loses significance, the second one becomes unimportant. Mexican death is the mirror of Mexican life (Octavio Paz). They joke about it, they find the joy in it and the irony too, they defy it every day.

Mexican Day of the dead is a celebration of life itself, of everything their loved ones did and everything they left undone too. Just to remember them they’ll never be forgotten, and they’ll always be waiting for them to come back.

Rose operates a guesthouse in Morelia, one of the main areas where these festivities take place. Over the years the property has received many awards including:

  • #1 Lonely Planet~2008,10,12,16

  • Airbnb~Super Host Award~2015 to current

  • Booking.com~Guest Review Award~2016 thru 2020

  • Booking.com~Traveler Review Award~2020

  • TripAdvisor Travelers' Choice Award 2013~Top 25 B&B in MX

  • TripAdvisor Hall of Fame Excellence Award~2018

  • TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence~2011 to current

  • #1 on TripAdvisor of 57 B&B's in Morelia~2011 to current

  • NEWEST: TripAdvisor Travelers' Choice Award~2020

Contact Rose here to book her guesthouse.

Alternatively, to plan a once-in-a-lifetime trip to experience Day of the Dead yourself, contact me at dylan@clements.travel. As a Mexico resident myself you can be assured your journey to this part of the world will be a culturally rich and unique experience.

Images kindly supplied by the Mexico Tourism Board.