October (and into November) in Mexico is a time of traditions!
It’s a beautiful month full of culture and celebration of not only life, but also death!
A little bit of history first…
This holiday dates back to pre-hispanic times (3,000 plus years ago!). It is deeply rooted in Aztec tradition, but as we know it today, it is also mixed with European Religion and Spanish culture.
While Day of the Dead is rooted in Aztec traditions and widely celebrated throughout the country, here in the Yucatan peninsula we are on Mayan land! And the Mayan people have a very similar, equally beautiful celebration this time of the year known as Hanal Pixan. (Check out our blog from last year HERE to learn more about this celebration!) But for the purpose of this blog, we are just going to touch on Dia de Muertos!
So when is it?
Like most holidays in Mexico, it’s up for debate! AND it’s not just one day… But up to three (or more) days! It traditionally is celebrated on the 1st and 2nd of November, however, in some parts of Mexico, it begins on the 31st of October.
No matter what the date, Dia de Muertos is a celebration of loved ones that have passed on. It is believed that on these days the border between the spirit world and the real world dissolves. During this brief period, the souls of the dead awaken and return to the living world to feast, drink, dance and play music with their loved ones. The first day is typically to honor children who left their families too early. The next day is focused on the adults.
How is it celebrated?
We’ve seen a lot of questions asking, “what events are taking place for the Dia de Muertos this year?” And while yes, there are a few events and parades in the area, this holiday is typically celebrated in homes or cemeteries and it is very family oriented.
And at the heart of this holiday is the altar (or OFRENDA) that is set up in a central area of the home. The altar is a table filled with different offerings and items paying homage to the dead. And the items typically change depending on the day!
Day 1 honors children. The ofrenda is filled with photos of children that have passed, toys, favorite foods, hot chocolate, candy, tamales, and items that have sentimental value to the family or child who has passed on.
The next day is geared toward the adults. The ofrenda hosts lots of food, cigars and cigarettes (if the deceased were smokers), tequila, beer, and of course photos of the loved ones passed.
On these evenings, the family gathers together and rather than mourn their loved ones, they celebrate them! They eat, drink, and tell stories together and it is believed the spirits join in and do the same.
Depending on the area of Mexico, these gatherings will take place both in the home and in the cemeteries. Families will gather near the graves and do the same- celebrate past lives!
Note: There are other ways this holiday is celebrated! Actually, all 32 states have their own traditions when it comes to Dia de Muertos… Some areas do have Parades and Festivals. But one thing to remember about our state of Quintana Roo, it is a MELTING POT of people from all over Mexico (and other parts of the world!). So in many cases, these communal traditions are not as prevalent here. The holiday here is centered in the homes with family and friends from the same state, where they share the same traditions, holiday dates, and typical food served on this day.
And the food?
This time of year is FULL of yummy comfort food, but as mentioned, the menu may change depending on where you are from. But almost always certain are the following: Tamales are prepared in different varieties (usually the favorite of the passed family members) and Pan de Muerto (dead bread)- typically served with hot coco- can be found at the local bakeries and within the ofrenda.
Marigolds, catrinas, calaveras and more…
Not just food and drinks are representative of this holiday! What about the colorful decor and dress? Typically with death, we associate black colors and somber expressions, but Dia de Muertos is the exact opposite! Remember- it is a holiday rooted in indigenous beliefs. In pre-hispanic culture, death was viewed in a more positive, colorful light and skulls were associated with continuation to the afterlife.
Today, Calaveras and Catrinas are probably the most well-recognized part of this celebration. Calaveras (brightly painted skulls) adorn the altars. Sugar candy skulls are a sweet treat left for the deceased children.
La Catrina, a well-dressed skeleton woman with a large hat donning colorful flowers and feathers, is another icon of this day. The original Catrina was painted by a Mexican artist back in 1912. And it stuck! She is known as the lady of the afterlife. It is common for people today to paint themselves as skeletons and dress in beautiful clothing and accessories during these celebrations.
We can’t go without mentioning Marigolds! These flowers adorn the altars and graves. The bright color and strong fragrance are thought to attract souls back from the afterlife.
So other than celebrations at home, what’s happening?
Like we previously mentioned, this is typically a family-oriented celebration, however, some parts of Mexico do feature parades and events. In our town there are a couple of local happenings!
First on the list is the 5th Annual Caminata de Altares (Altar Tour). Put on by our friends at Una Cuadra Una Tradicion, this tour will take you into local homes and businesses where you can view their ofrendas. The event starts at 6pm on Tuesday, November 2nd.
Another great event is the 17th Annual Festival of Traditions of Life and Death at Xcaret. While this is more of a representation of the holiday, it is an interesting experience and offers a lot to take in. Altars, food, performances and a wonderful show at the end of each night. The event runs from October 30th- November 2nd. Click HERE for more info.
Lastly, the local government will be hosting a Catrina and Altar Contest in the main square of Puerto Morelos. The event is to be held on October 30th at 6pm! Check out their Facebook page for more info.
That’s all for now!
…but stay tuned to our social media for more events (not just for Dia de Muertos, but also Hanal Pixan and Halloween!) We will throw some real estate info in there from time to time too, don’t worry!
We hope to see you out in about during some of these events!