8 Interesting Facts to Learn About the Day of the Dead in Mexico

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Updated on: Educator Review By: Michelle Connolly

Mexican festivals involve a lot of traditional food, hyping music, unique costumes, and many skeletons face paintings that portray death. Before you freak out, this Mexican festival is joyful rather than spooky, known as the Day of the Dead. Although it sounds like a horror-based festival, it is not. 

The Day of the Dead is known in Mexico and other Hispanic communities as El Día de Los Muertos. It is a national holiday celebrated on November 1st and 2nd, significant to the Mexicans and other Latin communities. People believe that on this day every year, the transparent wall between the spirit world and the natural world vanishes. Thus, their deceased families visit them here if they are still remembered. 

Day of the dead, Dia De Los Muertos
Day of the dead, Dia De Los Muertos, halloween Celebration Background. Traditional Mexican culture festival flyer.

Here are some fascinating facts about the Day of the Dead that you will be interested to learn about:

1. The Day of the Dead is Different From Halloween

This holiday is often confused with Halloween, given the death theme and the close dates on which both occur. However, this festival is anything but the Mexican version of Halloween. The common thing between both celebrations is the parades and wearing costumes. 

People also usually confuse both, for they relate to spirits and death differently. Halloween revolves around the dark notion that evil ghosts get access to our real world to intimidate and hurt people. However, the Day of the Dead is about remembering our family members who left us and doing great deeds to honour them. 

2. It Is A Celebration of Life

The Day of the Dead always sounds like it is about death. However, it is more about life and its meaning. This day commemorates the lives of those who died, emphasising the importance of remembering them. It also gives death a new definition by focusing on the afterlife. Thus, it is more of a celebration of the continuation of life. 

The concept of the afterlife indicates that when we die, we continue to live in a different place, but we won’t disappear for good, as many believe. This concept is also more common in Latin and Arab communities than in European and American ones.

3. It Was The Main Theme of Disney Pixar’s Coco

In recent years, Disney amazed us when the company started producing films with different themes than classical ones. It casts the light on different cultures and their beliefs. Coco was a Mexican-based animated film that fully illustrated the Day of the Dead concepts. 

This movie showed how the Hispanic communities celebrated this memorable holiday and its meaning. It also vividly demonstrated the Land of the Dead, where the deceased ones go after they leave their earthly lives. We recommend you give this film a shot, for it is full of significant meanings and many joyful moments. 

4. The Ofrenda is the Main Symbol of the Day

The Day of the Dead can never be complete without the ofrenda; it is the primary symbol of this special day. Ofrenda is a Spanish word that means “Offering”, and it describes the traditions of this day, including giving an offering to the deceased ones. The Ofrenda is usually a massive table with pictures of family members who left this world.

Before each picture of a loved one is their favourite meal, freshly cooked and served. Family members of the living aren’t allowed to eat this food, for their deceased family comes on this day to enjoy eating with the living, yet they never see them. According to traditional beliefs, those without pictures on an ofrenda cannot cross from the Land of the Dead to real life.

5. Other Symbols Are Included

While the ofrenda is the most significant and major symbol, it is not the only one that shows up on the Day of the Dead. Another important symbol that people put on shelves and even paint their faces with is the skull. Skulls, for some reason, are used to symbolise death, and it is no different here. 

People in Mexico and other countries that celebrate this day use skulls to commemorate their beloved ones who are no longer with us. They mix granulated sugar with water and meringue powder to form skull shapes and colour them brightly. Using sugar is a way to profess that there is sweetness in life.

6. The UNESCO Recognises This Day

When UNESCO declares a holiday, this day is significant and should stay alive for years. Thus, in 2003, UNESCO declared the Day of the Dead as an “Intangible cultural heritage,” professing that this practice encompasses a lot of knowledge and customs that make the Hispanic identities stand out. 

It also means that this tradition should continue to be passed down among many generations. This action is intended to encourage other countries to evaluate their national holidays and work hand in hand to keep their heritage rich and alive for years to come. Mexicans are undoubtedly happy that the world recognises their tradition of remembering their gone family as a great act of love and loyalty. 

7. People Cook for the Dead

Most traditional holidays involve cooking a specific food that has strong ties to the event. The same applies to the Day of the Dead, where people tend to make sugar skulls, tamales, Sopa Azteca, and more palatable dishes. However, this day involves more cooking than the traditional dishes of this day. 

People on this day tend to cook the favourite meals that their deceased family members used to enjoy. They place these dishes in front of every person’s picture present on the altar. It is also prohibited that people from the living to eat these meals. Among the traditions and beliefs of this day is that the dead pass from the Land of the Dead and enjoy their meals with their living families.

8. It Didn’t Originate in Mexico and Central America

The Day of the Dead is a significant holiday in Mexico, Guatemala, and Brazil. The whole world acknowledges it as a Mexican tradition. However, these celebrations originally belonged to Spain, which celebrates this day with its Latin American peers. 

In the early 1500s, the Spanish invaders brought their customs with them when they colonised Mexico. Yet, long before the Spaniards, the Aztecs were the first to celebrate this day; they observed it for a whole month, not just a couple of days. In Spain, they called it “All Souls’ Day,” for they believed it was when every single soul, dead or alive, got together again. 

Regardless of the origins, the whole world recognises this day. Even parades and festive atmospheres are taking place in the US to celebrate this day, although it is not part of their heritage. The Day of the Dead is a fascinating custom that everyone should celebrate. It signifies the beauty of life and how you should keep moving forward, carrying pieces of the ones who left us too soon.

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