Dia de los Muertos—the Day of the Dead—is a holiday celebrated on November 1. Although marked throughout Latin America, Dia de los Muertos is most strongly associated with Mexico, where the tradition originated.
Dia de los Muertos honors the dead with festivals and lively celebrations, a typically Latin American custom that combines indigenous Aztec ritual with Catholicism, brought to the region by Spanish conquistadores. (Dia de los Muertos is celebrated on All Saints Day and All Souls Day, minor holidays in the Catholic calendar.)
Assured that the dead would be insulted by mourning or sadness, Dia de los Muertos celebrates the lives of the deceased with food, drink, parties, and activities the dead enjoyed in life. Dia de los Muertos recognizes death as a natural part of the human experience, a continuum with birth, childhood, and growing up to become a contributing member of the community. On Dia de los Muertos, the dead are also a part of the community, awakened from their eternal sleep to share celebrations with their loved ones.
The most familiar symbol of Dia de los Muertos may be the calacas and calaveras (skeletons and skulls), which appear everywhere during the holiday: in candied sweets, as parade masks, as dolls. Calacas and calaveras are almost always portrayed as enjoying life, often in fancy clothes and entertaining situations.
Use the questions in the following tab (Questions) to inspire discussion about Dia de los Muertos, Latin America, colonialism, and culture.
Dia de los Muertos is celebrated throughout Latin America, including South America (Brazilians call the festival Finados) and the Caribbean. In the United States and Canada, the tradition exists only in areas with a large Latin American population, such as Los Angeles, California, or Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Dia de los Muertos predates the independence of Mexico, the U.S., and Canada. Why do you think this is not a widely celebrated American or Canadian holiday?
In some of these photos, masks and other decorations are only half-decorated with calacas and calaveras. Why?
In many parts of Mexico, participants in Dia de los Muertos festivities wear shells or other noisemakers on their clothing and jewelry. Why?
- Family members often clean and decorate the graves of loved ones on Dia de los Muertos.
- In addition to celebrations, the dead are honored on Dia de los Muertos with ofrendas—small, personal altars honoring one person. Ofrendas often have flowers, candles, food, drinks, photos, and personal mementos of the person being remembered.
- Dia de los Muertos is actually Dias de los Muertos—the holiday is spread over two days. November 1 is Dia de los Inocentes, honoring children who have died. Graves are decorated with white orchids and baby's breath. November 2 is Dia de los Muertos, honoring adults, whose graves are decorated with bright orange marigolds.
Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry Aztec Noun
people and culture native to Mexico and Central America.
type of Christian religion loyal to the Roman Catholic Church and the leader of that church, the Pope.
Spanish explorer or conqueror of Latin America in the 16th century.
Dia de los Muertos Noun
(Day of the Dead) holiday honoring deceased family and friends, celebrated on November 1 and November 2 in Mexico and throughout Latin America.
period of celebration or honor.
characteristic to or of a specific place.
Encyclopedic Entry: indigenous Latin America Noun
South America, Central America, the Caribbean, and Mexico.
to begin or start.
series of customs or procedures for a ceremony, often religious.