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Day of the dead

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Smiling skeletons, colorful skulls and festive picnics in the cemetery. A small summary what you can experience at the beginning of November in Mexico, when the Mexicans celebrate the 'Día de los Muertos' meaning the "Day of the Dead". On that day Mexicans celebrate that the dead return to the earth to visit their relatives. All of Mexico is turned into one big party with parades, banquet meals and people dressed as skeletons to honor the dead. The Mexican national holiday has even gained a place on the UNESCO list.

The locals believe that the souls of their loved ones will return to Earth on November 1 and 2 and of course this is celebrated extensively. There are colorful parades and parties in almost all villages and towns and everywhere you see decorated skeletons and skulls. Also the cemeteries get a big pile of cheerfulness over them. Graves are festively decorated with flowers and candles and where food and drink play a major role. 

The symbol of Día de los Muertos, La Catrina, cannot be avoided during the holiday. You will encounter this feminine skeleton with a huge flower hat in all corners of the city. Another part of the tradition is the special altar (ofrenda) that is set up in many Mexican houses. With this, Mexicans try to bring the spirits of the deceased back to the living world. These ofrendas are filled with various offerings, such as meals and water. It is also common to add family photos, candles and bright orange flowers on an ofrenda. 

Is Día de los Muertos not just the Mexican version of Halloween? Yes and no. Yes, because during the Day of the Dead and during Halloween, death is central and you can't go out on the street without a heart attack. However these two holidays also certainly differ from each other. At Halloween, it is thought that the ghosts who return to the earth are evil. At Día de los Muertos, on the other hand, it's all about deceased relatives and friends who are welcomed with a warm heart. Much better don't you think? :)

Below a list of the best places to celebrate Día de los Muertos:

  • Oaxaca: For the full immerse experience you dive into Oaxaca. Parades take place in this city, people watch over decorated cemeteries and you can visit colorful markets.
  • Merida: In Mérida they celebrate the holiday a little bit differently. Here the Hanal Pixán tradition is central, which stands for "food of souls". The holiday here is therefore mainly about food.
  • Mexico city: Want to make the Day of the Dead as festive as possible? Then you want to be in Mexico City. Think of carnival-like parades with the most diverse costumes. From skeleton suits to koi carp suits (yes apparently they are manufactured).
  • Chiapa de Corzo:The cemeteries of this colonial town are colorfully decorated with flowers and candles. You can also expect a lot of live music.

This article was last updated on December 15, 2020.