The Most Popular Traditions for the Day of the Dead

The Day of the Dead (Dia de Muertos, in Spanish) festivity is named Oral Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2003. This is due and particularly interesting from the festivity, since it is a privileged space where the meeting of two worlds is allowed; In one hand, the pre-Hispanic tradition that had a highly developed death cult and, the proposal of Evangelization that came with Catholicism through the Spanish in the 16th century. The indigenous people of Mexico adopted this festivity that is commemorated in the liturgical calendar from October 31 to November 2 as the feast of All Saints and the Faithful Departed.

This cultural manifestation reaches a syncretism represented in the cross of flowers mainly cempasuchil.

The Day of the Dead is the date of the year with the richest traditions and full of different manifestations depending on the region of the country. It is already very difficult to think about these traditions without removing from the mind; the offerings, catrinas, sugar skulls, chopped paper, cempasuchil, candles, dead bread and that special thing from each state of Mexico.

Día de muertos: de la celebración tradicional al duelo en pandemia

Mexico is a country so diverse and rich in culture that there are different forms and festivities for this special date for Mexicans who have lived it since their ancestors. Here we mention some of them:

  • Coatetelco, Morelos. The hanging offerings are the tradition of this town, its origin is pre-Hispanic and the families from this indigenous community still celebrate it as part of their usages and customs.

    These offerings are placed in “Huatlapachtl” a base of green reed wrapped in banana leaves and hung from the beams of the roofs of the houses. The containers that will carry the food of the offerings must be made of new clay, whether they are plates, pots or jars.

    The total of these will be 12 pieces, as follows: 12 pots of green mole, 12 jars of chocolate in water, 12 breads, in addition to the white dough tamales, as well as fruit, bread, Creole chocolate tablets and the pumpkin candy regardless of the number, 6 clay flowers, cempasuchil, candles, water and salt; if this altar is for a child, it will carry toys and children’s clothing.

    Along with the offerings, a path is built that will guide the souls, plus a ritual that consists of walking with copal.
  • Mixquic, Mexico City. Here they have a millenary celebration, it is done in a special way since it is one of the most emblematic festivities; It is also known as “La Alumbrada de Mixquic”, which takes place in the Panteon de San Andres Mixquic. It consists of families adorning the tombs of their dead with offerings (stews that the deceased liked), flowers and candles.

    On November 1 at noon, the bells of the church ring, announcing the arrival of the deceased, who arrive along the path of flowers, made of cempasuchil; for the afternoon of November 2, the bells ring again and from that moment “La Alumbrada” begins.
Día de muertos en Morelos | Newsweek en Español
  • Janitzio, Michoacan. The Day of the Dead in Janitzio is one of the most famous and important festivities in Mexico. Throughout the night of November 1, the villagers arrive at the tombs with offerings, flowers, bread, fruit, symbols, music and souvenirs. Everything arranged on beautiful tablecloths to honor their dead, between songs and prayers the night is spent accompanied by the melancholy sound of the bell placed in the entrance arch to the cemetery that calls the souls.

    Flowers, music and food are protagonists. “Las PireKuas” (traditional song of the Purepecha communities) has been declared Cultural Heritage by UNESCO and is part of this festivity. The cempasuchil flower adorns almost the entire island, as well as the gardenias, and the gladiolas surrounded by candles and copal gives a nebulous and perfumed atmosphere.

    The Purepechas have a legend, which tells that when they die, the souls fly like monarch butterflies over an enchanted lake until they reach the island of Janitzio. You just have to open your heart so that when you cross the lake by boat, you can see the souls among the waters of Lake Patzcuaro.
Mexico City Day of the Dead Parade Honors Earthquake Casualties and First  Responders
  • Hecelchakan, Campeche. In this Mayan population they have a very peculiar way to honor their deceased. It is the cleaning of the bones, considered an act of love in Pomuch. This is an ancient tradition of Mayan origin and takes place in the Pomuch cemetery. The families of this community commemorate their deceased as part of their religious worldview “El Choo Ba’ak” or cleaning of bones and is carried out from October 26 to November 2.

    On these “Holy Days” they do the ritual in the holy field cleaning and decorating their family ossuary, which consists of removing the bones of their relatives, dusting them off and again placing them on tablecloths previously embroidered with angels or flowers and the name of the relative, and then put them in wooden boxes of 30 cm x 60 cm; the ossuary to culminate the rite, is decorated with flowers and candles. While this process is being carried out, the deceased is watched between prayers and anecdotes from the relatives. On November 1 and 2, a mass is given in the cemetery and with this the celebration ends.

    As a note, when someone from the community dies, they are buried in a normal way and after a minimum of 3 years, the body is removed and the bone cleaning rite can be performed.
Choo Ba'ak o vestida de huesos: tradición por el día de muertos en Campeche  - Entorno Turístico
  • Aguascalientes. In this city and capital of the state there is a festival that has been gaining strength and it is the “Festival de las Calaveras”, it is one of the most attractive in Mexico, held at the end of October and the beginning of November. The entire city is transformed into a picturesque celebration of the deceased.

    Jose Guadalupe Posadas is the creator of “La Calavera Garbancera” which Diego Rivera later named as “La Catrina” becoming the image and symbol of the festival and the tradition of death in Mexico.

    There are 10 days of festival in which we will have endless artistic expressions such as concerts, plays, exhibitions, crafts and spaces for gastronomic tastings typical of the region, closing the festival with the “Great Parade of Skulls” (Magno Desfile de Calaveras).
XXII Festival de Calaveras.
  • Tamaulipas. The southern area of ​​Tamaulipas cannot be left out of the typical celebration of the Day of the Dead, so this 2022, the celebrations will resume starting with the “Festival Vida y Muerte” event that takes place on the 30th, 31st of October and November 1. Xantolo 2022 where Mexican traditions about the Day of the Dead celebration are revived in a family atmosphere.

    This event is characterized by the participation of various troupes, Catrina contests and a gastronomic fair, but without a doubt the most anticipated by each of the visitors is the display of altars, because there, thanks to the set of colors, textures and meals, is that you can observe in all splendor the roots of this beautiful and emotional celebration typical of Mexico.
Brilla Tamaulipas en desfile internacional del Día de Muertos en CDMX - El  Sol de Tampico | Noticias Locales, Policiacas, sobre México, Tamaulipas y  el Mundo
  • Yucatán. In Yucatan the “Hanal Pixan” is celebrated, a tradition inherited from the ancient Mayans and that, as in all of Mexico, aims to remind our loved ones that they have come forward.

    The “Hanal Pixan” is full of color and characteristic smells, but also of flavor, since the banana leaf is used as a tablecloth for the altars, as well as small vessels made from the fruit of the jicara to place typical dishes and drinks from the state in the offering and the incense that allows to give a special smell to the season.

    If we talk about “Hanal Pixan” we cannot leave aside the delicious Mucbipollo or “Pib”, as it is colloquially called in the entity. This is a large tamale that is cooked in the oven using the ancient tradition of burying it and burning firewood for cooking. The “Pib” is undoubtedly the emblem dish of the season.
Hanal Pixán: Así se celebra el Día de Muertos en Yucatán - México  Desconocido
  • Coahuila.  The Monumental Altar stands out on the steps of the Barrio de Santa Anita. In one of the most iconic and oldest neighborhoods of Saltillo, capital of Coahuila; there is a place immersed in one of the highest parts of the city, where you can go up by stairs and alleys, and that is where, since 2019, a tradition of celebration has been established within the framework of the Day of the Dead. It is the Barrio Santa Anita, where the neighbors surrounding this point in the Historic Center of Saltillo planned a project with which it is intended to rescue the Mexican culture of this celebration.

    This is how the monumental altar of the Santa Anita staircase was born. More than 300 people come to intervene in it, adorning the 150 steps of this legendary place, which are covered with a white cloth and on it they place flowers and other decorations that are key in an altar dedicated to the faithful departed, bringing together the elements of one of the most important traditions of Mexican popular culture and where all citizens can place a photo of their loved ones who have left this world.

    This activity is part of the “Animas del Desierto” festival, which takes place every year in Saltillo, where activities are also carried out such as the one that will take place in the Alameda in 2022 with a Monumental Pan de Muerto, there will also be a “Paso de la Mariposa Monarca” festival (the Monarch Butterflies Passage, in English), with an artistic installation, alebrijes and monumental rugs; in addition to the Monumental Skulls intervened by urban artists.

    The Traditional Cooks of Saltillo and Arteaga also participate, there are callejoneadas, legends, film screenings, poetry readings, a musical magazine, performances, concerts and folk dance, among other activities
Barrio de Santa Anita: convierten 180 escalones en altar monumental en  Centro Histórico de Saltillo

In addition, almost in each state of Mexico there are different shows, festivals, parades alluding to this great festival of the Day of the Dead. In each home, families place their altars dedicated to those who no longer live, these altars are accompanied by typical regional stews such as the tastes of the deceased, a tradition spread throughout the territory with its distinctive characteristics of each state.

Another tradition is to WRITE LITERARY SKULLS (Calaveritas Literarias). Mexicans are very good at playing with the meaning of words and creating creative rhymes and the Day of the Dead is no exception. The party to death and humor are reflected in the classic “Calaveritas Literarias“. Irreverent verses, written as epitaphs, portraying people as if they were dead.

Are you ready to venture out and let yourself be involved in these traditions full of mysticism, joy and irreverence in the face of death?

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