History of Day of the Dead
The ancient indigenous people of Mexico have practiced rituals celebrating the lives of past ancestors for around 3,000 years. The celebration that is now known as Day of the Dead originally landed on the ninth month of the Aztec calendar and was observed for the entire month. In the 20th century, the month long festivities were condensed to 3 days called The Days of the Dead: Halloween on October 31, Day of the Innocents on November 1, and Day of the Dead on November 2.
La Catrina is one of the most recognizable figures of Day of the Dead, a towering female skeleton with vibrant make up and a flamboyant feathery hat. The Lady of Death worshipped by the Aztecs protected their departed loved ones, guiding them through their final stages of the life and death cycles. La Catrina that we know today came to be in the early 1900s by controversial and political cartoonist José Guadalupe Posada. Artist and husband of Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, included José’s La Catrina in one of his murals which depicted 400 years of Mexican history. His mural, “Dreams of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park”, includes himself and a young child holding hands with La Catrina, who is dressed in sophisticated garb and a fancy feathered hat.
Plans for Day of the Dead are made throughout the year. Toys are offered to dead children and bottles of alcohol or jars of alote get offered to dead adults. Most families decorate their loved ones’ graves with ofrendas, which often includes marigolds. It’s said that these specific flowers attract the souls of the dead to the offerings, and the bright petals and strong scent guides the souls from the cemetery to their family’s home.
Day of the Dead timeline
- October 29, 2016
In the 2015 James Bond movie, Spectre, the opening sequence features a Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City. No such parade ever existed, but due to the interest in the film and the government's desire to promote pre-Hispanic Mexican culture, the government organized an actual Día del los Muertos parade for the following year.
- October 31 annually
Día de las Brujas
Halloween in Mexico, called Día de las Brujas, is the beginning of the Days of the Dead festivities.
- November 1 annually
Día de los Inocentes
The day of the innocents, also called Day of the Little Angels, is specifically dedicated to people who died as children.
- November 2 annually
Día de los Muertos
The Day of the Dead is the final and most popular day of the three day long celebration.
Day of the Dead FAQs
What happens on the Day of the Dead?
Do you say Happy Day of the Dead?
What is an ofrenda for Día de los Muertos?
An ofrenda is a collection of offerings and decorative objects place on a ritual display during Day of the Dead celebrations.
How to Observe Day of the Dead
Take time to remember
Pick a small area in your home (a table works well) and set up a candle, a photo of a loved one, and some flowers. It's a simple act of remembrance.
Visit a community cemetery
Many cemeteries are filled with festive sounds, smells, and imagery. Even if you don't have an altar, stop by a local community event to experience the sights and sounds that fill this day.
Host a Day of the Dead event at your home
This day is meant to be celebrated with family and friends. Make a large dinner and ask people to bring a photo of a loved one that has passed away, and place all photos on a table. During dinner, go around the table and have everyone say one fun memory about their loved one. The key is to keep it fun, positive, and festive.
Why Day of the Dead is Important
You get to remember your loved ones
While death can be a mournful experience, the Day of the Dead allows us to remember the happy memories we have of our loved ones.
Altars show respect for the dead
Altars may come in different shapes and sizes, but they all serve the same purpose, to show respect and honor a late loved one. This day provides you a time to go through old photographs, letters, toys, and other items that may hold sentimental value.
The marigold is a delicate, yellow-orange flower that represents grief, but is also bright enough to guide the spirits of dead one back home.
Day of the Dead dates