A Beginner’s Guide to Día de los Muertos: Everything You Need to Know

November 2, 2023

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Feliz Día de los Muertos!

You’ve probably seen the festive parades, elaborate skeleton face make-up, or a few clips from the beloved Disney movie, Coco. But what exactly IS Day of the Dead and why is it so popular?

Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a Mexican holiday celebrated on November 1st and 2nd. It’s a day rich in tradition and symbolism to honor our loved ones who have passed. 


Día de los Muertos has roots in both indigenous and Catholic traditions. Many indigenous groups in Mexico such as the Aztec, Toltec, and Nahua people, believed that death was not the end of life, but rather a transition to a new phase of life- the afterlife. They would often hold rituals to honor their deceased loved ones. They believed that Día de los Muertos was a special day where spirits could temporarily return to Earth. 

After the Spanish conquest of Mexico in the 16th century, the Catholic Church intorduced All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. These holidays are also dedicated to remembering the dead.

Catholic holidays and indigenous traditions merged together to form the Día de los Muertos that we all recognize today! Pretty cool, right?


Different regions of Mexico have their own unique traditions and customs for celebrating Día de los Muertos. Here are some of our favorites:

  • Building Ofrendas: Ofrendas are altars that are built and decorated in honor of deceased loved ones. They are typically decorated with photos, candles, flowers, food, or personal trinkets. 
  • Visiting Cemeteries: Families visit the cemeteries were their loved ones are buried. They clean and decorate their graves, and leave offers such as flowers, candles, or food. 
  • Making Calaveras: Calaveras are decorated skulls made of either sugar or clay. They are symbols of rebirth and often given as gifts! While we can appreciate the beautiful clay designs, we prefer to eat the sweet sugar skulls decorated with icing and other edible embellishments! YUM!
  • Enjoy Traditional Food: The best way to experience a new culture or holiday is by sampling traditional food! Some iconic dishes include pan de muerto (a sweet bread shaped in a circle to represent the circle of life), mole poblano (a savory chocolate sauce), and tamales.

Fun Facts: 

  • Día de los Muertos is not a sad or mournful holiday, but a time to celebrate life and the found memories you have of those who have passed. 
  • The marigold flower is a popular symbol. It is believed that the sweet scent of marigold help to guide the spirits of the dead back to the living world. 
  • The famous female skeleton, Catrina, has become an icon and popular symbol of the day! You’ll find Catrinas lining the streets and small Catrina trinkets for sale. 

Día de los Muertos is an inclusive holiday for all cultures and backgrounds to celebrate! Whether you cook an old recipe that reminds you of a loved one, or spend time sharing stories with your friends and family, we encourage you to take time to celebrate this significant day. 

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