The Day of the Dead or Dia de los Muertos is held on November 1 and 2 every year and is a celebration which originated in Mexico centuries ago. The popular holiday is a thought-provoking mix of Pre-Hispanic and Spanish beliefs with strong Catholic undercurrents. It is held throughout all regions of Mexico as well as the USA and other countries across South and Central America, Asia and Europe.

What is the Day of the Dead?

The Day of the Dead is a joyous holiday created specifically for remembering those who have passed. Traditionally November 1 is the day for honoring children and infants (All Saints’ Day) and November 2 (All Souls Day) the day for honoring adults. Festivities may also start as early as October 31, Halloween or All Hallows Eve.

A giant artwork of a skeleton sits in Mexico City's Zocalo plaza

While most people celebrate the festivities out of love, some follow the holiday out of fear. Mexico is full of folk tales that tell of spirits who return on the Day of the Dead to find that no one has built an altar for them. Stories tell of neglected spirits who seek vengeance on those who have forgotten them.

How do people celebrate Day of the Dead?

The Day of the Dead is held both privately and celebrated by public events.

Personal Day of Dead Altar

Individuals create an altar in their home to commemorate their loved ones. They also visit the graveyards to clean their family member’s graves and decorate them with items including flowers, photos, candles as well as food and drink. Musicians are also hired to play the favorite songs of the deceased in the cemetery as relatives stay up all night telling stories of their loved ones.

Public Day of the Dad celebrations include colorful festivals, parades and street parties and are held right across the Riviera Maya from Cancun to Cozumel and beyond. The tradition of making or buying and exchanging sugar skulls and other sweet treats is also very popular.

Day of dead float, Mexico

Local Celebrations

Dancing Day of Dead parade

Xcaret – Festival de Vida y Muerte: 30 October – 2 November

Xcaret is celebrating the 11th edition of the Festival of Life and Death traditions bringing rituals, festivities, expositions, plays, dances, concerts and local customs under the one roof. Mexican artist Lila Downs will be performing at the event.

Playa del Carmen – Exposicion de Altares – 30 October

A free event, El Pueblito at Mayakoba in Playa del Carmen invites you to visit their exhibition of altars. The observance of the celebration will also feature local Mexican food to tempt those taste buds.

Playa del Carmen – El Festival Multidisciplinario Amor y Muerte: 2 November

The multidisciplinary Festival of Love and Death brings events such as theatre, music, dance, workshops and conferences together at the Municipal Cemetery of Playa del Carmen for the whole community to enjoy.

Cozumel – Dia de Muertos Hanal Paxan: October 31 – 2 November

This 3-day extravaganza will be held primarily at Parque Benito Juarez and features tours of the altars of the dead, gastronomic shows, dances, folkloric ballet and musicians as well as a performance by Algeria Chacon.

These Day of the Dead events are just a handful of the goings on around this amazing part of Mexico. Check out your local tourist centers for more information.