How to celebrate life and death

Behind This Mexican Tradition

There is no bigger tradition in Mexico than this festivity. During these dates, we welcome back the souls of our deceased loved ones by throwing a big colorful party with traditional food, customs, and music. We prepare everything for spending a day with those who are no longer among us. It might sound scary for some people, but that’s why we decided to share with you what really happens on this date and how we celebrate.

1.- Setting up an altar

This is probably one the most antique traditions among Mexicans. Making an altar is not something you do randomly, every single one of the elements has a meaning. Most of the altars have three levels: one represents the sky, one the earth, and the last one the underworld, these are the levels that the souls are supposed to ascent to get back to our world. It is usually decorated with photos of the deceased, their favorite meal and with things they used to enjoy when they were alive.

altar de muertos

Fun fact: the tradition says that the altar must be set on October 31 and that no one should touch or taste the food of the guests: our deceased loved ones. Is not until they get back to the underworld that the dishes can be shared among the friends and family.

2.- Party at the Cemetery 

For those who don’t want to wait for their deceased at home, don’t worry, the party is also at the Cemetery. We are also used to decorate the graves of our families with beautiful flowers and candles, we bring food and live music to spend the night with them.

3.- Making and eating Dead Bread

Sharing a delicious dead bread with our family is one the most exquisite traditions we have in Mexico. During October and beginning of November, all the bakeries and supermarkets sell this peculiar bread with little “bones” on the top, perfect to accompany it with a cup of coffee or a hot chocolate.

4.- Asking for Calaverita.

Similar to trick-or-treating, asking for Calaverita it’s Children’s favorite part of Day of the Dead. Kids go door to door with a skull in their hand asking for candies, fruit or dead bread. Especially on November 1st and 2nd is really common to find groups of kids on the street asking for Calaverita.

5.- Writing Literary Calaveritas

 One of the things we are famous for, is playing with words and changing their meaning through creative rhymes and quotes. Day of the Dead is no exception. It is the time of the year when we write literary calaveritas. They are similar to a poem but with irreverent verses written as an epitaph.

Do you have any similar tradition in your country?