Feliz Dia de Los Muertos! On this sacred day, you’ll see specially curated sugar skulls, marigold petals sprinkled across gravesites, and the spirits of the dead rising again to seek out those still living.
While it might sound like the beginning of a horror story, but in reality, it's just a tiny cross-section of the deep-rooted tradition of Dia de Los Muertos from Central America.
Despite its reputation as the "Mexican version" of Halloween, Day of the Dead is a vibrant celebration of life, color, and the beauty of death.
When is Día de Los Muertos?
As those north of the border wind down their Halloween traditions, an explosion of life and color is taking over Mexico as the two-day holiday of Dia de Los Muertos, or Día de Muertos dawns on Central and South America.
Each year, on November 1st and 2nd, Mexico is a vibrant paradise for the dead. Families put their hearts and souls into preparing for the arrival of their lost loved ones, hoping to catch a glimpse or share a whispered word before the sun rises on November 3.
Dia de Los Muertos is split into three parts, each emphasizing a particular community of departed spirits.
Día de Los Angelitos / Day of the Little Angels
Beginning at midnight on November 1st, the party starts with celebrating the angelitos or little angels. Families believe that for the next 24 hours, the spirits of departed children walk the earth with their families.
To help these small souls find their way home, their loved ones fill the ofrenda with all the goodies and toys their child loved in life.
They also set out photos and write the name of the deceased children on a Calavera, an elegant skull made of sugar, to encourage visits to their earthly home with the promise of sweets.
Día de Los Difuntos / Day of the Deceased
As the clock strikes midnight on November 1st, the Día de Los Difuntos begins.
Long into the early morning, the sounds of laughter and remembrance fill the streets. As local bands play music, neighbors engage in energetic dance, jubilant and gleeful in the face of death.
Relatives trade toys and candy for traditional Mexican cuisine and favorite foods, like tequila bottles, warm atole, and pan de Muerto. Accompanying these exquisite treats are photos of the loved one being honored.
Día de Los Muertos/ Day of the Dead
For the final celebration, which starts at noon on November 2nd, most cities host a town party, complete with a Day of the Dead parade and graveyard visits.
While there, adults and children alike indulge in marranitos and puerquitos, leaving marigolds, small trinkets, and colorful Calaveras on loved ones' graves to help guide the spirits back to the afterlife.
Día de Los Muertos History
Though it coincides with Halloween, and the two holidays share similar themes, Día de Los Muertos is far from a fright fest.
Instead, it is a time where families cheerfully gather in celebration of death, as a natural part of life, and as a time to remember the ones they have lost with ofrendas or altars.
The holiday's origins are rooted in a 3,000-year-old summertime tradition that saw ancient indigenous people known as the Aztec people honoring Mictecacihuatl, the Lady of the Dead.
When the conquistadors began their Roman Catholic Church campaigns across Mesoamerica, they brought somber European traditions surrounding the dead that clashed with the festive and lively origins of the Day of the Dead celebration.
So, the date moved to November 1st and 2nd to fit more neatly into the Catholic calendar of holidays remembering the dead: All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day.
Día de Los Muertos Quotes
Despite the different iterations of the holiday taking place across Latin America, they all focus on one central message deeply woven into the intangible cultural heritage of Dia de Muertos: Death is a beautiful and celebrated moment of the human experience.
Here are three quotes that embody the spirit of Dia de Los Muertos:
- "The day which we fear as our last is but the birthday of eternity.” -Seneca
- "From my rotting body, flowers shall grow, and I am in them, and that is eternity." -Edvard Munch
- "The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living." -Marcus Tullius Cicero
How to Celebrate Día de Los Muertos
Across Latin America, there are thousands of variations to Dia de Muertos celebrations. The Calaveras are rarely used in festivals in rural areas, while urban dwellers embrace the chance to wear costumes and paint their faces like La Calavera Catrina, which is said to have a dark history.
Despite these differences, a few standard strings unite Día de Muertos across Central and South American regions.
If you're wondering how to celebrate your deceased loved ones, look no further than our list below. If you really want to get into the spirit of the day, learn Spanish to impress your family and friends.
Día de Los Muertos Decorations
As the weather cools, family members begin their preparations for this special Mexican occasion by creating bold, colorful decorations.
Soon enough, sugar skulls will line the shelves of candy stores in La Paz, Puebla, and even some towns close to the border, like San Francisco and San Antonio.
Spanish for "cut paper," papel picado is the art of cutting thin, airy pieces of tissue paper into elaborate designs.
These gorgeous, lively art installations create colorful banners that adorn businesses and homes during the Day of the Dead celebrations.
Ofrendas serve as a physical "offering" for the spirits who you hope will visit during the Day of the Dead festivities.
The traditions regarding altars vary from region to region.
At the same time, in general, the ofrenda altar will include food, pictures, candles, tequila, mezcal, religious symbols, marigolds, and Calaveras with the deceased's name written on them.
In Central Mexico, specifically in the urban areas, pan de Muertos is the only edible item placed on the altar.
The town of Mixquic adds an extra day to their celebrations, beginning on October 31st, then continuing through All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day.
They believe that children's spirits return on the night of the 31st and create an ofrenda of white florals, salt, water, and a candle to greet each one on their journey.
One of the unique regional differences is in the town of Huaquechula, where they create tiered altars loaded with offerings they purchased during a special market day.
The people of Huaquechula often place on the altars:
- White sugar lamb figures
Their altars are often made of white and gold materials, like satin.
Dia de Los Muertos Makeup
Perhaps the most recognized symbol for Day of the Dead is elaborate, yet striking Calavera makeup. It is inspired by a lithograph called "The Dapper Skeleton," or "La Calavera Catrina," which has become a key symbol of Dia de Los Muertos.
The bright colors, ever-present smile, intricate details, and fancy clothes accompanying Calavera's makeup emphasize the beauty of death instead of the fear of mortality often associated with skulls.
In Mexico City, Calavera face painting is particularly popular.
Día de Los Muertos Flowers
The marigold, also known as flor de Muerto or "flower of death," is a richly perfumed bloom found across Central Mexico, Southern Mexico, and Central America.
The rich color palette and aromatic floral scent are thought to lure the spirits of dead relatives to the elaborate altars their families have prepared for them.
Families of the dead loved ones also sprinkle petals on their loved one's final resting place, decorating graves while tidying the cemeteries, ensuring the spirits find a clear path to make their long journey home from the spirit world.
Día de Los Muertos Food and Drink
Modern-day Mexico has not lost touch with the roots of what Day of the Dead is, even after 3,000 years.
Authentic cuisine and drink traditions have been passed on from generation to generation, evolving into the Day of the Dead holiday we are proud to celebrate today.
Pan de Muerto
Food is fundamental to Mexican heritage and identity. One of the fondest memories the living have of their departed loved ones often involves the elder teaching the younger how to prepare a special family meal.
Pan de Muerto is one of those traditions, and many who observe Day of the Dead make offerings of the delicious sweet bread at their ofrendas each year.
Día de Los Muertos Pumpkin
Halloween and Dia de Los Muertos share a familiar orange gourd with one another.
Pumpkin pieces are candied in a pot called a tacha, along with a blend of sugar and spices. It's a treat that traditionally goes by the name of "Calabezza de Tacha," or candied pumpkin.
Dia de Los Muertos Drink Recipes
Doesn't a holiday celebrated in Mexico deserve a spirit to match?
Craving Cool and Refreshing?
Calirosa Rosa Blanco is a unique, vibrant tequila with a natural sweetness developed over a 30-day aging process in red-wine barrels from California. With notes of orange, cherry, and dark berry, you'll enjoy a smooth drink with a strong finish.
Add all the ingredients into a wine glass, add the ice, and mix. Garnish with a grapefruit slice.
- 1.5 oz Calirosa Rosa
- 1 oz Aperol
- 1.5 oz Tonic Water
- 1.5 oz Soda
- 1 Grapefruit slice garnish
Glass: Wine glass
Garnish: Grapefruit slice
Traditional With a Twist
If your motto is, "If it isn't broken, don't fix it," we've got the Calirosa cocktail for you.
Our Añejo is aged for 18 months, during which time it develops rich notes of caramel, vanilla, nutmeg and chocolate. These complex flavors are beautifully complemented by the classic taste of an Old Fashioned.
Add the sugar cube, the angostura, vermouth, and one ounce of Calirosa Añejo and mix all ingredients until there is no more solid sugar. Add the rest of the Calirosa Añejo, add a big cube of ice, and mix. Garnish with an orange peel.
- 1.5 oz Calirosa Añejo
- 0.5 oz Sweet Vermouth
- 1 Brown Sugar Cube (or leftover bits from sugar skulls, if you have any lying around)
- 1 drop Angostura Bitters
- Orange peel for garnish
Glass: Old fashioned
Ice: Big ice cube
Garnish: Orange peel
Día de Los Muertos Tequila
Like most family get-togethers and holidays celebrated worldwide, Day of the Dead celebrations typically include a few drinks.
Put your twist on a 3,000-year-old Mexican tradition with a refreshing cocktail enhanced with the superior flavor of Calirosa.
Our tequila is aged in prized California red wine barrels after cooking the agaves in old-fashioned brick ovens. Our partners, the Real Family in Amatitan, Jalisco have been using unique craft methods to provide a top-quality alcoholic beverage since 1942.
Our tequila is produced in Jalisco, Mexico, making it an authentic way to celebrate this memorable holiday. So, with that, enjoy a glass of our fine-aged tequila and Feliz Dia de Muertos!