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What is "El Día de los Muertos" All About: The Story of A Beautiful Tradition

What is El Día de los Muertos?


El Día de los Muertos, otherwise known as the Day of the Dead, is not a one-day, but a multi-day holiday that spills into streets and public squares at all hours of the day and night once a year in Mexico. It is a celebration of both life and death in which families demonstrate love and respect for deceased family members. In towns and cities throughout Mexico, people wear funky makeup and costumes, hold parades and parties, sing and dance, but most importantly, make offerings to their loved lost ones. The more you understand about this feast for the senses, the more you will appreciate it!

History and tradition


This tradition originated in Central and Southern Mexico and dates back over 2,000 years. It survived through the 16th century when the Spanish arrived to Central Mexico and thought the tradition to be unholy. But despite dressing up as skeletons, having artfully face paint to resemble skulls, and wearing shells or other noisemakers to rouse the dead and keep them close during all the fun, El Dia de los Muertos is not meant to be considered a spooky holiday.

Those who celebrate it believe that at midnight on October 31, the souls of all deceased children make their way down from heaven to reunite with their families, and the souls of all deceased adults come to visit the next day on November 2.

Recognized by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity


Dia De Los Muertos Celebration - Mexico City

In 2008, Unesco (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) recognized the importance of Día de los Muertos by adding the holiday to its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The institution mentioned that with this, it aimed to highlight the value of cultural expressions as “one of the most relevant representations of Mexico’s and the world’s living heritage, and as one of the oldest and strongest cultural expressions among the country’s native groups.”

Mexico’s most colorful annual event.


Families make colorful altars in their homes in honor of their loved ones. These altars are the centerpiece of the celebration and are meant to welcome spirits back to the realm of the living. They are loaded with offerings such as water to quench the thirst after the long journey, flowers, food, a candle for each dead relative, and pan de muerto- a slightly sweet bread made for this time. The festivities continue in the cemetery where families play, bring picnics and even spend the night as a way to celebrate the lives of those who are no longer on this earth.


The term ‘sugar skull’ comes from the Day of the Dead festivities and is one of the most globally recognizable symbol of both the festivities and Mexico. Sugar skulls are bought or made by families to add to their altar and the name of their loved ones is often written in icing on the skull's forehead.

El Dia de los Muertos recognizes death as a natural part of the human experience, a continuity with birth, childhood, and growing up to become a contributing member of the community.

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