Fun Facts: Dia De Muertos (Day of the Dead)

The Day of the Dead (Día de Muertos) is a Mexican holiday famous for its positive attitude towards death. Friends and family gather together to pray for and remember their loved ones who are no longer living. It is a festive and colorful celebration lasting three days, and remains a defining part of Mexican culture.

The holiday takes place every year on November the 2nd, when the spirits of those who have died are said to come back and spend time with their families.

We asked one of our students from Mexico, Jose (who studied English in England), what he thinks about this holiday.

“I was talking to a friend about the Day of the Dead and he believed that it was the same as Halloween, but it isn’t. Halloween is a day where you gather to party and to ask for candy, but the Day of the Dead is another thing. It’s a day where most Mexican families gather together to remember our dead relatives and pray for their souls.

“We also set altars to remember and pray for them. This altar is decorated with photos of our relatives, skulls of sugar that represent the dead, candles that represent life, Marigold flowers, the statue of a dog, Xoloitzcuintli, who is a guide to heaven, the favorite objects of the person and the Dead’s Bread, which is a cake that is prepared on that day and set as a gift to the dead.

day-of-the-dead-sugar-skulls-bread
Traditional sugar skulls and 'bone bread'.

“Traditionally, Mexican people celebrate this day in a graveyard, but this year I am studying in Cambridge and will be celebrating it with Kaplan at their Dance of the Dead party in London. I am still planning on cooking the Dead Bread though, as it is so delicious that you would die to taste it!”

Wherever you are celebrating, Día des Muertos remains a fascinating and important tradition. Here are a few more interesting facts about the day...

  • The origins of the tradition can be traced back as far as the Aztecs, almost 3,000 years ago.
  • Offerings that are placed on the altar usually include a wash bowl, razors and soap so the traveling spirit can clean up after the journey.
  • Sugar Skulls are a popular and iconic offering, and were first made in the 17th century. They are ‘absorbed’ by the spirits and then eaten by the living.
  • Families clean and decorate the graves of their loved ones, often staying up all night singing songs and telling stories about their dead ancestors.

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="300" caption="A grave decorated with colorful marigolds."]day-of-the-dead-grave[/caption]

  • Marigolds are often placed at altars and graves. Known as the ‘flower of the dead’, their scent is believed to attract the souls and draw them back.
  • UNESCO has declared the tradition to be an ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity’, which means that it is an important part of a culture that can recorded but cannot be touched and interacted with.
  • Sometimes the dead are forgotten: Mexico City alone has more than 1.5 million abandoned tombs!

If you know any more interesting customs for the Día de Muertos, please share them below. And if you are attending the Kaplan Halloween party, make sure you share your favorite photos on Instagram (#kaplanexperience), Twitter, Facebook or here!

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