Shine On: A Look Inside Mexico’s Day of the Dead

Mexico’s Día de Los Muertos is much more than simply a Mexican version of Halloween. In fact, most of Mexico does celebrate Halloween in the traditional form of dressing up and trick-or-treating at local storefronts and businesses. However, Mexico’s several-day celebration of Day of the Dead is something else entirely different from Halloween.

During the first two days of November, the country commemorates in honor of those who have departed the land of the living. The celebration is full of eerily beautiful traditions that root back to early Mesoamerican culture, and are all primarily focused on one thing: welcoming the deceased on their visit to the world of the living. Día de Los Muertos is believe to be the one day of the year that the dead can come to visit their friends and families from the Underworld.

The pillar of Mexican Day of the Dead celebrations are the construction of altars, or ofrendas. They are often decorated with very colorful flags and light crêpe paper with characters and scenes stenciled into them. These altars, beyond being an explosion of color, are decorated with candles, personal belongings, photos of the deceased and cempasúchil flowers. These orange flowers are Mexico’s flor de muerto – or flower of the dead – and are believed to guide loved one’s souls back to the world of the living. If you’ve ever seen Coco, then I’m sure you can imagine the flower bridge that acts as a passage to the world of the living. It truly is a beautiful way to picture it, isn’t it?

In addition to flowers and candles, these altars are stacked with offerings for the dead. Family and friends will leave their loved one’s favorite foods, liquors, cigarettes, etc. for them to enjoy during their visit from the Underworld. November 1st is known as Todos Santos – or all Saints Day -, which is believed to be the day when deceased children cross over to visit the living. On this day, you can find alters filled with toys and sweets for those who left this world too soon.

Other typical Day of the Dead relics include Pan de Muerto, a sweet bread that is also often found on alters, and sugar skulls. It is also very common for families and friends to clean and decorate the graves of their deceased. They also hold graveside vigils that, contrary to what you may think, are actually quite cheerful and festive. It is believed that the dead prefer to be remembered with happiness, rather than mourning. During this time, stories are told of the dead in order for them to shine on in the form of happy memories.

In many places in Mexico, families also celebrate Day of the Dead by dressing up and painting their faces with Catrina skull designs and marching in the Catrina parade. The biggest Catrina parade by far is in Mexico City, where hundreds of people dress up as Catrinas and flock to the city’s zócalo.

You don’t need to be in Mexico to celebrate Day of the Dead. If you’re into it, you can build an altar for your loved ones anywhere in the world! It is believed that they come to consume the spirit of whatever foods or gifts you leave for them during the nights of November 1st and 2nd. Plus, Catrina makeup and outfits make for great Halloween costumes. Get yourself a beautiful embroidered Mexican dress like these ones, get out those face paints and add the spirit of this beautiful Mexican tradition to your Halloween!

Here at the Erica Maree studio, which doubles as a bohemian fashion and accessory shop in beautiful Puerto Vallarta, we believe in the value of supporting artisans whose handicrafts have been passed down for generations. Each one of our pieces is created by hand with heart and soul, and provides fair labor wages for artisans in order to keep the magic of traditional Mexican hand embroidery alive.

As always, thanks for shopping handmade!