Día de los Muertos—the Day of the Dead—is a holiday celebrated on November 1. Although marked throughout Latin America, Día de los Muertos is most strongly associated with Mexico, where the tradition originated.
Día de los Muertos honors the dead with festivals and lively celebrations, a typically Latin American custom that combines indigenous Aztec ritual with Catholicism, imposed on the region by Spanish conquistadores. (Día 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, Día de los Muertos celebrates the lives of the deceased with food, drink, parties, and activities the dead enjoyed in life. Día 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 Día 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 Día 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 Día de los Muertos, Latin America, colonialism, and culture.
- Family members often clean and decorate the graves of loved ones on Día de los Muertos.
- In addition to celebrations, the dead are honored on Día 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.
- Día de los Muertos is actually Días de los Muertos—the holiday is spread over two days. November 1 is Día de los Inocentes, honoring children who have died. Graves are decorated with white orchids and baby's breath. November 2 is Día de los Muertos, honoring adults, whose graves are decorated with bright orange marigolds.
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
(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.
South America, Central America, the Caribbean, and Mexico.
to begin or start.
series of customs or procedures for a ceremony, often religious.