Day of the Dead is Not Mexico’s Version of Halloween

Dia de los Muertos

Don’t be Scared It’s a Time of Celebration

Day of the Dead is a traditional Mexican festival brought to the big screen in the 2015 the James Bond movie Spectre. Then in 2017, the beloved Pixar movie Coco brought a colorful and lighthearted insight to Mexico’s long-standing tradition.  As a visitor to Mexico, don’t lose sight of the primary meaning holiday as you participate in this evolving public event.

Dia Los Muertos developed from pre-Columbian cultures. Today the multi-day public holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember loved ones who have died, to support their spiritual journey. UNESCO recognized the importance of Día de Los Muertos by adding the holiday to its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, in 2008.

Día de Los Muertos celebration is a mash-up of pre-Hispanic religious rites and Christian feasts. It takes place on November 1 and 2—All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day on the Catholic calendar—around the time of the fall maize harvest. During the two-day period families usually clean and decorate graves, most visit the cemeteries where their loved ones are buried and decorate their graves building private altars called ofrendas, honoring the deceased using Calaveras (skulls, including the famous sugar skulls), the favorite foods and beverages of the dearly departed, and marigolds. Why marigolds, you may wonder? The marigold is sometimes called Flor de Muerto (Flower of Dead). These flowers are thought to attract souls of the dead to the offerings. It is also believed the bright petals with a strong scent can guide the souls from cemeteries to their family homes.

Tradition in the Land of the Maya

In the Yucatan Peninsula, the festival known as Hanal Pixan, where more people are devoted to the Mayan traditions. Hanal Pixan means “meals for the souls”. Homes are cleaned and prepared for the souls who are going to arrive. Altars are built with the deceased’s favorite foods and drink. One of the traditional dishes is mucbipollo. Made only for this particular time of year, mucbipollo it like a big tamale, masa stuffed with tomato, onion, chicken or pork, wrapped in a banana leaf and baked in a pib, cooked in the ground. If you have an opportunity to try mucbipollo, don’t pass it up.

Families also go to the cemeteries and place flowers on the grave, or they may even paint the headstone.

Across Mexico, this holiday is revered and is a time of celebration and respect for those who have passed. Some of the largest festivals are in Mexico City, Pátzcuaro, Mixquic, Tuxtepec in Oaxaca and Aguascalientes in Guadalajara.

In Merida, they have a Festival de las Amimas “Festival of Souls” starting October 24 – 31. On Saturday, Oct. 27, traditional altars will be seen at the Plaza Grande and Noche Mexicana, the weekly fair at the remate of the Paseo de Montejo. On Sunday, October 28 Mejorada Park transforms to a path of flowers. Pib Festival — celebrating Yucatán’s iconic take on the tamale, mucbipollo starts at 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. in San Sebastian. The biggest event of the week is “Paseo de las Ánimas” Wednesday, October 31 at 6:00 pm starting at the General Cemetery and winding its way down to the San Juan arch with bands, altars, costume, and lively celebrations.

In Valladolid, it is interesting to watch people building altars around the zocalo starting October 31.

Here in the Riviera Maya, the festivities begin in Playa del Carmen on October 27th with a Catrina parade starting at the Parque Fundadores at 5:00pm to 9:00pm.  

Xcaret has a huge four-day festival beginning October 31 that is worth experiencing. Get your tickets and use coupon code FTVM-AF18.

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