Day Of The Dead, A Mexican Tradition

Last Updated Nov 1, 2023

Day of the Dead is a celebration of life that speaks about death. This paradox is only possible in the most surreal place in the world: Mexico.

In this post, we will delve deeply into the magic that surrounds the Mexican tradition of the Day of the Dead, a celebration that contains, within itself, the colorful and adventurous spirit and the close relationship with death that we Mexicans have. But for a better understanding, let's briefly discuss the general outlook on the views of death in Latin America.

Day of the dead offerings

Latin America and death

In Latin America, death is revered. Although it's not the only place where this happens, it can be argued that the Latin American perspective is closely tied to death in many ways. This perspective may have originated from the way their people's freedom has come into being, based on a dynamic perspective of the views of death.

People in Latin America will pray to Santa Muerte in search of a dignified death, celebrate their deceased with festivity, and spend money to find earthly spaces to rest for their eternal slumber.

In Latin America, death is mourned but also celebrated. In Spanish-speaking countries in the Americas, days of mourning are also days of celebration. Through loss, the life of those who passed through this world is celebrated. In Latin America, there's an interesting belief that life doesn't truly end; it's as if our happiness is embedded in a sense of infinity. It's as though earthly life is just the first step on the paths that souls and spirits can take.

In Mexico, for example, death is both mourned and enjoyed paradoxically. Amid the festivity of the presence of the dead, according to ancestral traditions, on November 1 and 2, the deceased walk among the living, remembered by Mexicans with offerings, which we will discuss shortly.

To better understand this tradition, we have to go back to time immemorial when Spanish conquest of the Aztec nation had already ensured its entry, not only through the evident confines of colonization but also from the perspective of ideological blending, better known today as a Beach, Cozumel, admire the Mayans and their ancient, incredible culture by visiting pool of thinking called "syncretism."

Gathering in graveyards on Day of the Dead in Mexico

This is the way religious practices of the conquered and the conquerors intermingle to create new rituals, myths, and religious practices that have largely endured and withstood the test of time.

Day of the Dead: A single origin?

In the case of Day of the Dead, even though the custom has its ideological origins in indigenous communities, the mix of ideas has taken hold of the date, almost to the point of completely blurring its original concept. This religious syncretism between the Spanish and the indigenous has turned into a kind of dogma that gives this tradition new meaning, transforming it into a celebration.

In practical terms, the combination of views regarding this tradition has turned it into a spectacle for visitors during these dates. While it has become significant for Mexicans in general, it's even more important for indigenous and native communities, those that have existed in Mexico since before the Spanish arrival.

This tradition ultimately stems from the indigenous Mexicans' ability to ask themselves important questions, known as "fundamental" questions:

  • Where do I come from?
  • Who am I?
  • Where will I go when I die?
  • Is there something beyond?

These questions indicate a perception of a world that ends, but of a soul that endures. Death plays the role of marking the end of things but also the beginning of new things, a different path, one that is traveled outside the sight of everyone but is a place, a time that all will attend, as it's our only certainty.

This universal concept has one of its most beautiful reflections in the world of ideas. It is an influence deeply ingrained in indigenous culture, a means for the native Mexican to reconnect with their families who have passed to the other world, at least once a year.

During this time, they provide food, drink, and permission to the deceased as part of a larger figure, symbolizing the maturity of forgetting, overcoming grief from an idiosyncratic point of view, a symbol of minimizing loss and mourning. The belief is that even though people have departed from this plane, they have the ability to return, to illuminate the path over two days, November 1 and 2, during which our deceased become guides, and we become bright paths for them, as they temporarily pass through this world of the living, indicating their way through candles, light, even their favorite food, and drinks.

The offering, where all these things are placed, represents the state of abundance in which we live, and which the average Mexican may seem to take for granted.

Ok. Now that we have your undivided attention, let us describe the beautiful moments you will be spending while on this magnificent itinerary.

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Day of the Dead Offerings

What is a Day of the Dead offering?

A Day of the Dead offering is an activity that takes place in Mexico on the day before Day of the Dead.

More than an ornamental object, the offering is a ritual that takes place in the company of loved ones. A Day of the Dead offering is a way to invite the deceased to join in the company of their families, attracting them with their favorite foods, drinks, and photographs or memories.

“Maybe you’re also interested in our “El cielo” travel itinerary

In offerings, the favorite items of the deceased to whom tribute is paid are placed, and an invitation is opened. These offerings are divided into levels or "floors," and on them, from bottom to top, things for children are placed, such as toys, sweets, or coloring books with crayons.

Day of the dead offerings

Moving up, there's "pan de muerto" (traditional bread of the dead) and games like lotteries for the younger and younger adults. At the top level, alcoholic beverages and cigarettes are placed, which will bring back fond memories to the older deceased. It's a way to care for their well-being in the afterlife.

In the altar built during this activity, families select objects and place them on tables with different levels, usually on a white tablecloth:

  • "Pan dulce" (sweet bread), born directly from the cultural blend of Spain and Mexico, represents the body of Christ.
  • Typical fruits symbolize the sweetness of life and the memories that delight the visiting spirits.
  • Alcoholic beverages bring pleasant memories to the guests of honor who come from the world of the dead.
  • Water, to quench the thirst of the visitors who have walked from the beyond.
  • Chocolate or tobacco cigarettes, candies, and smokes for the enjoyment of the underworld visitors.
  • Chocolate or tobacco cigarettes, candies, and smokes for the enjoyment of the underworld visitors.
  • Sugar cane with skulls, representing the "tzompantli" or the accumulation of impaled heads of enemy invaders during the colonial era. The loaves represent the heads, and the sugar canes symbolize the sticks on which they rested as a symbol of a military victory.
  • Candles and votive candles, representing faith, light, hope, the flickering flame indicating the path back home.
  • Portraits of the deceased, always facing a mirror to suggest that we can't look at them directly because they must remember that they are no longer part of this world.
  • "Petate", a resting place for the visiting spirits who have come to the world of the living.
  • Toy "Izcuintle", designed to attract children as a representation of the happiness a pet can bring. This mythical animal also symbolizes crossing the Chiconahuapan River, the last threshold before reaching Mictlán, the underworld.
  • Copal and incense, born of the syncretism between indigenous and Spanish influences, were used to purify prayer and praise. The fragrant combustion creates an aromatic guide for the deceased, cleansing the environment of evil spirits.
  • Various flowers, especially the marigold flower (cempasúchil). They symbolize the festive atmosphere, the high spirits, and the good humor of Mexicans. They also symbolize the companionship of child souls.
  • Sugar skulls, medium-sized skulls allude to death, which is ever-present; small ones represent the Holy Trinity, and large ones represent the Eternal Father.
  • Papel picado (perforated paper), representing air, an element that should be present on any altar.

Each of the objects that make up an offering is a symbol with deep significance, linked to the memories of those who are no longer in the world of the living. These items provide guidance, a path of light, color, food, and memories that give the souls of the deceased clues on how to return home and make contact with the living.

In different parts of Mexico, traditions vary, even to the point of having regional denominations. One example is Hanal Pixán in Yucatan and Quintana Roo, where offerings, food, and customs are slightly different. Another example is the Xantolo festival, which is the "Feast of the Souls," in the state of Hidalgo, where traditions and customs also differ.

Celebration of the Day of the Dead

It takes place on November 1 and 2, during which specific themes are celebrated. For instance, All Saints' Day is observed on November 1. On this day, it is believed that it is when the spirits visit the offerings.

However, as the first day, it is reserved for the souls of children. That is, on this day, those who visit the altars are the children who have passed on to another world and return to enjoy the offerings made for them.

The second day, November 2, is reserved for adult visitors who come from the realms of death to taste the delights left for them on the altars.

During these two days, an interesting syncretism occurs, derived from Mexico's proximity and its bordering position with the United States to the north.

Catrinas in Mexico

In the indigenous Mexican imagination, these would not be days of celebration but, rather, days of reflection, remembrance, and honoring their dead. However, due to Mexico's proximity to its northern neighbor and the closeness of the dates to Halloween celebrations, an interesting practice has emerged:

Wearing costumes in the streets.

What is "pedir calaverita"?

The custom during November 1 and 2, Day of the Dead in Mexico, is for children to go out into the streets dressed in costumes. Although these days, costumes can vary and mix with those from cinematic horror and suspense themes, most children dress as "calaveritas," representing skeletons.

So, the children go out in costumes, bag in hand, ready to "pedir calaverita", an action that involves going door to door, ringing the doorbell, in the houses near their own or in selected areas, to ask for candy or money. The custom is that Mexican families are ready for this and can give out coins as a symbol of abundance or prosperity, as well as sweets or fruits for those who aim to look after the young ones' diets.

Disguises in Mexico on Day of the Dead

It's interesting to think that this action is quite similar to what children do during Halloween when they approach houses to ask for "trick or treat." However, these kinds of blends are natural in border areas and often become normal practices in neighboring societies and states, eventually permeating entire societies.

Where is the Day of the Dead celebrated?

The Day of the Dead is celebrated all over Mexico, and also in various Latin American countries where the customs are quite similar to those in Mexico. However, Mexico is the place where the holiday has the most significance and presence on November 1 and 2.

In every state of the country, events take place that make this tradition a celebration full of color, rich in Mexican customs mixed with those of other countries like Spain. This makes it one of the most interesting festivals in the world, especially due to the type of food served during these days, as well as the colorful offerings and people's attire in the streets.

One of the instances where this tradition is celebrated in an interesting way is in the Mexican Caribbean, where it is known as Hanal Pixán. During this celebration, the foods from the Yucatan Peninsula, especially in Cancún and the surrounding areas, are more pronounced.


Day of the Dead Food in Cancún

Mayan culture has strong traditions that persist to this day, and one of them is the delicious food consumed during Day of the Dead or Hanal Pixán celebrations in this region of Mexico. Mayan food is diverse, ancient, and prepared with intricate, ancestral methods that will provide a plethora of experiences for any palate.

"Pollo Pib" or "pibipollo", a traditional "meat bread" for Hanal Pixán celebrations (analogous to Day of the Dead). The term "Pib” means "underground oven" and at the same time "wrapped tamale."

Gatherings on Day of the Dead

  • Tanchucuá, a hot beverage made from fresh corn dough and ground cocoa, sometimes with a hint of anise.
  • Sikil pak, ground pumpkin seeds mixed with tomatoes and seasoned with chili, used as a dip for tortilla chips or toast.
  • Cochinita pibil, a dish, served in almost every restaurant within the region, of marinated pork with achiote and a variety of spices that will take your taste buds on an incredible journey.
  • Salbutes, small masa patties filled with various toppings that can range from seafood to the classic black bean filling.
  • Papadzules, similar to enchiladas: tortillas filled with egg, rolled, and bathed in a green sauce made from pumpkin seeds.
  • Xeek, a dessert resembling a citrus salad, featuring sweet orange, sweet lime, grapefruit, and jicama, dressed with lime, salt, and habanero or ground chili.

Day of the Dead in Cancun.

Xcaret Cancun

If you happen to be visiting Cancun, the Riviera Maya, or Tulum, you're in the right place to experience an adventure like Day of the Dead, and probably like nowhere else in the world. Primarily because, as mentioned earlier, the food available for you to try is truly special. Additionally, the Caribbean setting adds a unique touch to a tradition that is already colorful and quintessentially Mexican.

Various locations in Cancun, Tulum, and the Riviera Maya host events, but perhaps the most noteworthy one from a tourist perspective is the Festival of Life and Death held at the Xcaret hotel's facilities.

The Festival of Life and Death takes place within the Xcaret park and is a visually stunning celebration that transforms the park into a Mexican extravaganza. During this event, you can enjoy impressive shows while indulging in food and drinks available around the park. There are also theater performances and concerts taking place during the traditional days of Day of the Dead or Hanal Pixán.

Don't forget that you can contact us to arrange a safe and adventure

Hanal Pixán in Tulum

In Tulum, there are Hanal Pixán celebrations or Day of the Dead festivities that will captivate you. Several hotels and venues in this magical town host holistic and multidisciplinary festivals that will leave your senses in a state of awe, delight, and immense pleasure. These experiences can include stage performances, electronic music concerts, wellness and health conventions, massages, aromatherapy, temazcales, yoga, sound healing, and culinary experiences, all with a Day of the Dead or Hanal Pixán theme.

You can book a transfer service from Cancun Airport to Tulum with us to attend any of these events.

Day of the Dead in Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen is one of the most sought-after destinations in the Mexican Caribbean, and this is because it represents Mexican culture very well. During Day of the Dead, Playa del Carmen's Fifth Avenue comes alive with parades and costumes, including Catrinas and Calaveras. There are also various taco tours, gastronomic events, buffets of typical dishes at some hotels, and a two-day celebration filled with joy and festivities.

Playa del Carmen will be bustling with people in costumes, seeking fun, food, and celebration, making it a very enjoyable experience. To get to Fifth Avenue, you can contact our experience experts and schedule a private driver service from Cancun Airport to Playa del Carmen.

Don't miss Day of the Dead!

Mexico is a place full of life, color, and UNESCO cultural heritage, such as its food and Day of the Dead celebrations. These traditions are known worldwide for their warmth, vibrancy, and the interesting people, places, and cuisine they involve.

Visiting Mexico during these traditions means becoming a part of them, feeling the warmth of the people, and understanding why, even in times when "death looms," Mexicans smile, dance, eat delicious food, and welcome both the living and the departed with open arms.

Private Transportation on Day of the Dead

Don't forget that the experience specialists at Odigoo Travel can provide you with the opportunity to schedule safe and comfortable travel during the Day of the Dead celebrations. Inquire about:

    Private transportation from Cancun Airport to Playa del Carmen. Private transportation from Cancun Airport to Tulum. Private transportation from Cancun Airport to the Riviera Maya. Private transportation from Cancun Airport to your hotel.

Book your trip today and enjoy these festivities with Odigoo Travel.

Until next time.

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