The Days of the Dead - Mexico

Mexicans celebrate Los Dias de los Muertos (the Days of the Dead), on All Saints' Day, 1 November, and All Souls' Day, 2 November, each year. On these days, the souls of the dead, following the fragrant trail of the cempasúchil (marigold) petals, return to earth to spend time with their relatives.

Day of the Dead 2002, 3

Jeannine Baker © Australian Museum

The altar is for the people you care most about. You do it because you love the person, not because you have to out of custom. The altar is for the dead, not the living. A Chichemeca family of women from Pozos, Guanajuato Mexico.

Traditionally, the first day is for the angelitos, (deceased children) and the second for the dead adults. Normal activities are suspended and cemeteries and homes transformed especially in rural areas.

Local markets provide colourful papeles picados (paper cut-outs), candy skulls and food, and pan de muerto (bread of the dead). Most homes include an altera (altar), laden with ofrendas (offerings) to the deceased, and gravesites are cleaned and decorated with an abundance of candles and flowers.

The essential ingredients in an altera (altar) are:

  • cempasúchil (marigold) flowers - they form the road the dead need to walk on when they return
  • dirt or earth - because we live on the earth
  • ash - because when you die you become ash
  • water in a glass - because the dead are very thirsty
  • meat - because the dead haven't eaten all year, so you put out their favourite food for them

The colours orange, purple and white signify the dead. We also light candles to remember them. The light represents the light inside each person.


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Tags Death Online, day of the dead, Mexico, Mexican, custom, tradition, remembering the dead, los dias de los muertos,