How to survive Mexico’s Day of the Dead

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Halloween is just around the corner and the macabre celebration is sometimes confused with Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). It’s one of the biggest festivals in Mexico and dates back to the pre-Columbus era.

The festival origins are between 2500-3000 years old. It can be traced back to the indigenous nations, which ruled Mexico, before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores. The ancient communities would commemorate the death of their ancestors by keeping skulls as trophies. These were considered symbols of death and rebirth.

Image courtesy of 007
Image courtesy of 007

Day of the Dead festivities take place in major cities and villages and its one of the most colourful times to visit Mexico. If you want find out more about the event, then read our terrifying guide to Mexico’s spookiest festival!

What is Day of the Dead?

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Image by Richard Cawood | www.RichardCawood.com (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Day of the Dead celebrations see homes and graveyards decorated with gifts, food and drinks to help entice the deceased back to life. Mexico’s streets will be magically transformed into a valley of flowers, candles, decorative masks, skulls and ‘Calavares’, which are papier-mâché skeletons designed to inspire and frighten the living!

When is Day of the Dead?

Image by Denise Womack-Avila (Flickr/Creative Commons)
Image by Denise Womack-Avila (Flickr/Creative Commons)

The festival takes place on October 28th until November 2nd. ‘Dia de los Angelitos’ is on November 1st and its dedicated to dead children’s souls, while ‘Dia de Los Muertos’ celebrates the spirits of dead adults on November 2nd.

Flamboyant parades take place to celebrate the adult day, alongside communal meals and crazy street parties that go on long into the night.

What happens during Day of the Dead?

Image by by Richard Cawood | www.RichardCawood.com (Flickr/Creative Commons)
Image by Richard Cawood | www.RichardCawood.com (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Every Mexican house and cemetery becomes a horror inspired shop window. ‘Ofrendas’ are set up in family homes, and they are private and decorative altars dedicated to the dead. They usually comprise of candles, incense and cute skull candles, and lots of sweets and drinks.

Image by Jenny Huey (Flickr/Creative Commons)
Image by Jenny Huey (Flickr/Creative Commons)

At midnight, Mexican families go to their local cemetery, carrying their dead relative’s favourite meal and lay down candles, flowers, photos, and a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

How to dress for Day of the Dead

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Image by Gwen (Flickr/Creative Commons)

The easiest Day of the Dead costume is to dress in black and paint your face like a skull. If make up is not your thing, then you can always buy a cheap skull mask.

If you’re feeling especially adventurous, then you can always make a skeleton costume by putting reflective tape on a black t-shirt to create an illusionary skeleton.

Mexico Hostels for Day of the Dead

Our favourite hostels will be hosting Day of the Dead parties all over Mexico this year. If you want to dress up like a skeleton with a sombero hat, then book your holiday today and commune with the dead on a budget!

Header image by Paul Simpson (Flickr/Creative Commons)