Mexican History

The Days of the Dead/Los Dias do los Muertos

The Days of the Dead (Los Dias de los Muertos) is a traditional three-day celebration in Mexico. The holiday honors the dead and welcomes them back for two days of feasting and festivities. It is not a time of mourning, but a celebration of life.

On October 31, a family will go to the market and buy food, candles, incense and flowers. They buy, among other things, sugar calaveras (skulls), sweet breads called hojaldra and rosquette or pan de muertos — loaves of bread decorated with "bones" — and a type of marigold called zenpasuchitl or cempasuichil. At home, the families prepare ofrendas, altars laden with offerings of food, candles, incense and flowers for the departed in their families. Then they go to the cemeteries and adorn the graves of their loved ones. Rituals at the cemeteries feature feasting and mariachi music. After dark in many traditions, solemnity reigns. Many people remain at the cemetery throughout the night.

Parades run through towns with coffins carrying the "dead" (who sit up and smile and accept the oranges that are tossed to them). The dead are seen by the living as playful and happy beings who want to be entertained and feasted and cherished, and the holiday celebrates life, not death.