The Day of the Dead can be traced back to pre-Colombian indigenous cultures; the Aztecs spent an entire month each year performing formal rituals in honour of their ancestors. The modern holiday falls on November 1st and 2nd, with preparations beginning days before. People go to cemeteries to be with the souls of the departed, often sleeping by their loved ones’ graves overnight. They encourage the souls to return with offerings of favourite foods (in particular candied pumpkin, pan de muerto or "bread of the dead", and sugar skulls), beverages such as atole, and marigolds. These orange Flor de Muerto or “Flowers of the Dead” are thought to attract the souls of the dead to the offerings.
While not everyone in Mexico believes in the spiritual overtones of the festival, it is widely recognised as an important part of Mexican heritage, and most schools and government offices will erect shrines as part of the celebration.
Jonas, one of our local guides in Mexico City, explains the traditional holiday this way: “In Mexico, the celebration of death is at the same time the celebration of life, an expression of creativity and fascination related to what happens with our ancestors after death. The legacy of past civilizations is graphically manifested on this occasion through people's beliefs that death is a transition from one life to another in an eternal circle, where communication exists between the living and the dead.”
If you happen to be in Mexico from October 29-November 2nd, consider taking a tour with one of our local guides, who will help give you first-hand access to the local folklore and customs surrounding the Day of the Dead. In Mexico City, Jonas has created a Day of the Dead tour specifically to learn about and experience this fascinating holiday. His tour is flexible, but he suggests taking part in a visit of traditional altars for the dead, learning from museum exhibits on the topic, visiting local markets to see traditional festival goods for sale, typical food tasting, graveyard visits and moonlight boat rides.