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What is Day of the Dead (Dia de Muertos)?

Day of the Dead is celebrated in many parts of Mexico. These celebrations originated during pre-hispanic times, when many Mesoamerican ethnic groups rendered  tribute to the dead.  It was the belief that at the time the deceased was taken to be buried or cremated their soul would embark on a difficult journey. Every year ceremonies would take place where the person was buried or where their ashes lay, and rituals completed not only to assist the souls of the departed but also to facilitate their long duel ahead.

So that these souls/spirits could begin their journey, the living would accompany them by means of a ritual. The death of the individual would be announced with laments and shouting by the elderly women of the community.  Then the deceased  would be covered with their personal items. Afterwards, the body of the deceased would symbolically be given food in an exquisite banquet.

Due to the effort in setting up a Dia de Muertos altar, they may remain longer than three days.

The most important days, are November 1st and November 2nd. According to tradition, those are the days that the departed pay a visit.  Originally altars were set up a few days before the start of November and remained until the 3rd of November.

La Catrina

La Catrina

La Catrina has become a Mexican icon during Day of the Dead. La Catrina originated as an illustration of an etching by José Guadalupe Posada. She is a very elegantly dressed skeleton, characteristically wearing a french style hat (chapeau en attente), with a feather. Her hat is like those used by wealthy women in Mexico, in the early part of the20th century.


Cempasuchitl flowers

orange flowers with green leaves

Cempasuchitl flowers

Cempasuchitl (Marigold) flowers can be seen adorning tombs and altars during the Day of the Dead celebrations. They flower after rainy season and have also become iconic during Day of the Dead. The flowers are an intense color orange and yellow. Traditionally they were used in funerary rituals as a symbol of life and death. It was the belief the petals conserved the heat of the rays of the sun, in this way illuminating the way for the dead, and attracting them with their aroma.

Cempohualxochitl, from the Nahuatl cempohuali  means twenty and xochitl means flowers.


Flor de terciopelo is another flower commonly placed at cemeteries and Day of the Dead altars.

Pan de Muertos

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Pan de Muertos

Pan de Muertos

Pan de muertos is a traditional sweet bread baked during the celebrations of Day of the Dead. It usually has skulls or crossbones protruding at the top. There is controversy about its origin in Mexico.


Day of the Dead

Day of the Dead is celebrated in many regions of Mexico.

Alebrije in Mexico City