10 Best Places Where to Celebrate Day of the Dead in Mexico

by | Oct 26, 2022 | MEXICO, EDITORIAL

The Day of the Dead is observed in Mexico between October 31 and November 2.

On this Day, Mexicans remember and honor their deceased loved ones.

It is not a sad or melancholy occasion but a cheerful and colorful festival honoring the lives of those who have passed away.

Mexicans go to cemeteries to decorate graves and remember their loved ones who have passed away.

They also make magnificently decorated altars (called Ofrendas) in their houses to welcome the spirits.

These celebrations occur in cities and towns across the entire country, each with rituals and means of commemorating the deceased.

In this article, we will talk about ten places where to celebrate Day of the Dead in Mexico with enjoyable and intriguing festivities.


The Celebration’s History

The dead were buried near family dwellings in pre-Hispanic times (usually in a tomb beneath the central patio of the house), and there was a significant emphasis on maintaining contact with deceased family members, who were thought to exist on another level.

With the arrival of the Spanish and Catholicism, the rites of the Day of the Dead and All Saints mingled with pre-Hispanic beliefs and customs, and the festival began to be honored as we know it today.

The notion behind Day of the Dead customs is that ghosts return to the world of the living one Day each year to be with their families.

The ghosts of departed newborns and deceased children (dubbed “little angels”) are said to visit their families on October 31 at midnight, spend the Day with them, and then leave. The adults arrive the following Day.

In 2008, UNESCO designated Mexico’s indigenous festival dedicated to the dead as part of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity due to its significance as a defining component of Mexican culture and the distinctive aspects of the celebration that have been passed down from generation to generation.

Day of the Dead Tradition

The Cempasuchil Flower

The Cempaschil flower or Marigold flower is indigenous to Mexico; its name derives from the Nahuatl “Cempohualxochitl,” which translates as “twenty flowers” or “various flowers,” and it represents the Day of the Dead altars because of its representative hue and perfume.

November 1 and 2 are days when we can appreciate the most intense color and smell of the Cempasuchil flower.

According to tradition, this flower is used to make a path from the entrance of homes to guide souls to the altars; it has been considered a symbol of life and death since pre-Hispanic times.

Dia de los Muertos Flowers – Cempasuchil or Marigold Flowers – Photo: Coatl15 via Creative Commons

How Mexicans Celebrate the Day of the Dead

In ancient times, people were buried near their family houses, so there was no need for separate home tombs and altar decorations; they were all in one place.

The graves are decorated in the hope that the departed will return there first, although they are buried far from their homes.

In specific communities, flower petals are sprinkled on routes leading from the graveyard to the house to assist ghosts in finding their way.

It is usual in specific communities to spend the night in the cemetery, where people dine outside, play mariachi music, speak, and drink all night.

The Day of the Dead is celebrated in various ways throughout Mexico.

The celebrations in the country’s south are more vibrant, especially in Michoacán, Oaxaca, and Chiapas.

Rural celebrations are frequently solemn, whereas those in larger cities can be lighthearted.

Even in Mexico City, there is now a Day of the Dead Parade, which has appeared in Hollywood films.

Some places are well-known for their festivals, and there are frequently unique trips and activities that offer visits to local traditions.

Where to celebrate Day of the Dead in Mexico
Day of the Dead Celebration in Mexico

Differences between the Day of the Dead and Halloween

Although the Day of the Dead and Halloween share some aspects, they are distinct and distinct holidays.

Both are derived from early societies’ perspectives on death, which later blended with Christianity.

Both are founded on the concept that spirits appear at specific times of the year.

Customs around Halloween appear to arise from the idea that ghosts were mischievous, with youngsters dressing up so they wouldn’t get hurt. In contrast, spirits are enthusiastically welcomed as lost family members in Day of the Dead celebrations. a long time ago.

The Day of the Dead is still evolving, as is the blend of cultures and ceremonies.

Halloween events are increasingly prevalent in Mexico: masks and costumes are sold in marketplaces with sugar skulls and bread of the dead, costume contests and altar contests are organized in schools, and some young people dress up and go out to request sweets.

Day of the Dead
Day of the Dead: Dia de Muertos vs Halloween

Travel to Mexico on the Day of the Dead

These are excellent dates and times to visit Mexico.

Although families commemorate this Day privately, there are various public displays to enjoy, and no one will resent your presence in local cemeteries and other public areas where Mexicans celebrate and honor their deceased if you act appropriately.

Day of the Dead Traditions

These are the 10 Places where to Celebrate Day of the Dead in Mexico

Day of the Dead celebrations take place in cities, small towns, and villages around Mexico, each with its own rituals and ways of remembering the fallen.

Day of the Dead celebrations can be seen throughout Mexico, but here are a few locations where the rituals are particularly noteworthy.


Oaxaca City, Oaxaca

Visitors visiting Oaxaca can visit colorful marketplaces in the surrounding communities during the Day of the Dead, with the Friday market in Ocotlán being particularly noteworthy.

They can also attend vigils at various tombs and participate in “comparsas,” which are nightly carnival-like processions.

There are also sand tapestry competitions and Day of the Dead altars built throughout the city.

There are various types of bread called Pan de Muerto in Oaxaca. The most common is the yolk bread, decorated with decorative heads for the rest of the year.

This bread is delicious when dipped in Oaxacan hot chocolate!


Patzcuaro, Michoacán

The Day of the Dead is a joyous and spiritual celebration in Lake Pátzcuaro, as in other regions of Mexico.

It is a time to prepare altars, visit tombstones, gather Cempasuchil flowers, and make traditional Day of the Dead cuisine in preparation for the souls of loved ones to return.

In Pátzcuaro, you can participate in all of Mexico’s major Day of the Dead traditions and Day of the Dead rites unique to the region, such as fishermen’s performances with butterfly nets, fire dances, and special tombstone ceremonies.

The Candlelight Night of the Dead is a most impressive sight because it occurs simultaneously in multiple villages surrounding Lake Pátzcuaro.

The Danza de Los Viejitos (Dance of the Old Men), a traditional folk dance from Michoacán, is also performed on the Day of the Dead.


Janitzio, Michoacán

Janitzio is a small island in Lake Pátzcuaro that is accessible by boat from Pátzcuaro and is a tourist attraction.

On the island, the Purépecha indigenous community, commonly known as Tarascos, observes complicated Day of the Dead ancient traditions.

Processions and music, folk dances are performed throughout the small island, and local families spend the night in the cemetery singing and praying.

The most magnificent sight is perhaps fishermen in rowboats with torches lighting the lake.

Day of the Dead Festivities – Photo: Miguel Angel Mandujano Contreras via Creative Commons

Merida, Yucatán

In Merida, the Day of the Dead celebrations are known as Hanal Pixan in Mayan, which translates as “festival of souls.”

Families assemble in a hole to make pibipollo, a pibil-seasoned chicken tamale wrapped in banana leaves and cooked underground.

Both ghosts are thought to absorb its essence, and live people, who eat the real thing, adore the dish.

There are also street parties and memorial services.


Mexico City

Mixquic

Mixquic, located in Mexico City’s Tlahuac Delegation (southwest of the city center), has been consumed by the megalopolis’ urban expansion but preserves the aura of a rural village with significant indigenous roots.

Countless street stalls are set up in the days leading up to the Day of the Dead celebrations.

A candlelight vigil will take place at the cemetery after a parade around the city carrying a cardboard coffin.

Historic City Center

As I previously stated, the most popular Day of the Dead celebration today is influenced not only by tradition but also by 007: Spectre, the 2015 “James Bond” film, which begins with a massive Dead Parade through the Mexico City streets.

This procession/parade premiered in 2016 and has increased in popularity since then, with millions of people watching as graceful Catrinas and colorful “Alebrijes” (mythical creatures) march more than five kilometers down the parade route from stately Paseo de la Reforma to Mexico City Historic Center.

This parade is not typical, but it is colorful and entertaining.

Day of the Dead Parade in Mexico City – Photo: Secretaría de Cultura de la Ciudad de México via Creative Commons

Aguascalientes, Aguascalientes

The festival de las Calaveras takes place every year from October 28 to November 2 in the hometown of engraver José Guadalupe Posada.

The festival is held on municipal fairgrounds and features craft fairs, traditional cuisine booths, seasonal fruit, and various plays and concerts.

The beautiful march of skulls down Avenida Madero de Aguascalientes highlights the festival.

Day of the Dead Celebration – Calaveras Festival

Mayan Riviera, Quintana Roo

In honor of the Day of the Dead, the Riviera Maya’s Xcaret theme park hosts the Festival of Life and Death every year.

The festival runs from October 30 to November 2 and includes theater and dance performances, concerts, conferences, parades, special excursions, and Day of the Dead customs.


Guadalajara, Jalisco

Tlaquepaque, the most gorgeous and “instagrammable” city south of Guadalajara’s downtown, is the ideal location for the Day of the Dead parade.

Downtown is recognized during the Day for its colorful umbrellas, lined sidewalks, cobblestones, and several stores.

However, on the night of November 2, the town transforms into a full-fledged procession and a sea of people.

Recently, the Day of the Dead (procession) has become one of Guadalajara’s most popular and spectacular festivals.

Don’t miss the Novias Catrinas fashion show, which features women dressed as Novias Catrinas (wedding dresses, but with skull paint makeup).

The women here go all out for competition, wearing suits with enormous cathedral trains, braided gowns with brilliant lights, and accompanied by husbands or children.

The show is set up like a fashion show, with each artist strolling down the runway to have their moment in the spotlight.

Calaverandia, a theme park that opened in Guadalajara in 2018, has also gained popularity recently.

The park is set up like a movie set, with live music, neon lights, skulls, sweets, “Cempasuchil” flowers, offerings, rides, and entertainment.

From November 2 to the 20th, many foods and beverage options are available inside the park.


Chiapas

During Chiapas’ Day of the Dead celebrations, cemeteries come to life as villagers, and indigenous people assemble to pay their respects to their ancestors.

As is usual in every society, some celebrations are joyful, while others are solemn.

Tall blue crosses adorned with pine branches and marigolds flank El Romerillo’s revered funeral grave.

To honor their deceased, thousands of indigenous Tzotzil Chamulas congregate in a vibrant festival with traditional music, food stalls, and rides for young people.

Families leave flowers, fruit, candles, incense, soft drinks, and pox, a locally manufactured maize liquor, at graves.

While the products are similar, Amatenango del Valle has a much darker vibe than El Romerillo.

The serene cemetery is surrounded by maize and is located on a hill overlooking Amatenango.

Survivors share their stories, and musicians perform song requests to honor the deceased.

In the community of Zinacantán, Tzotzil Mayan women artisans create stunning flower embroidery and backstrap loom weaving.

At the Mukenallakolteclum cemetery, the Tzotzil Mayans hold their grandest cemetery festival, where people wear costumes decorated with vivid flowers and display incredible floral arrangements.

The cemetery of San Juan Chamula and San Sebastián are distinct from the Mayan cemeteries.

In the lack of tombstones, Tzotzil Maya burials in San Juan Chamula are marked with wooden crosses and covered with earth mounds.

In contrast to the pantheons of the Tzotzil settlements, the San Sebastián cemetery is full of concrete tombs and mausoleums.

Day of the Dead – Dia de Muertos Street Vendors and Skeleton Decorations

Traditional Food and Drinks

And if you get hungry…

It is a fact that while returning from the spirit world to the realm of the living, you will be pretty hungry and thirsty.

That is, at least, the traditional belief in Mexico.

Some families place a favorite dish of their deceased loved one on the altar.

But what I like most about these festivities is the famous bread of the dead.

The Pan de Muerto is a traditional sweet bread flavored with anise seeds and adorned with dough bones and skulls.

The bones are arranged on the bread topping in a circle to represent the circle of life.

Another thing you can try is sugar skulls.

These skulls are a form of sugar art that was introduced by Italian missionaries in the 17th century.

They are pressed into molds and embellished with crystalline colors. They are available in a variety of sizes and different levels of sophistication.

And for drink …

Pulque, a sweet, fermented drink made from agave sap; the corn atole with raw cane sugar, cinnamon, and a little added vanilla; and hot chocolate are popular drinks at these parties.

Day of the Dead Food Tradition – Pan de Muerto

Final Thoughts

Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico are serious business with deep historical roots and contemporary significance.

While the brilliant aesthetic and sensory experience of these events draw visitors from around the world, a profound lesson is a dedication to remembering the lives of deceased loved ones and keeping their memories alive.

Travelers and those interested in the cultural side of the different destinations they travel to can join in the celebration by attending cemeteries, parades, and events across the country.


Day of the Dead Parade Mexico City





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