Gastronomy,  Holidays,  Mexico

The Day of the Dead in Mexico

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Early November is very important for the people of Mexico. The Day of the Dead is celebrated on 1 and 2 November. This is a Mexican tradition for honouring the dead. It came about when Catholic celebrations began to merge with the various customs of the indigenous population of Mexico.

It is not only a celebration of the dead but also a festival in which every member of the family can take part. It is a time when the living and the dead celebrate all the good times they shared together. Remembering the souls of the dead is an optimistic approach to immortality for the people of Mexico. In a belief system inherited from the Aztecs, the people of Mexico believe that their dead await them in Mictlán (a kind of spiritual waiting room) and that they can return home at this time of the year. 

Everything that this celebration involves seeks to show that death does not represent absence but rather a living presence. Death is a symbol of life that is reflected on the home altars that people create. It is therefore a celebration of great importance across Mexican society as it has many different meanings for different people, from the philosophical to the material.


Nowadays, families start by making preparations to help the spirits find their way back home. These preparations begin with an archway made from bright yellow marigolds. An altar is then created to hold offerings: flowers, candles and tamales. People also leave ‘pan de muertos’ (a type of bread made from egg yolks), fruit and tequila, and sugar skulls. The favourite food or drink of the dead person to whom the offerings are being made is also commonly found on these altars. Some families also continue to burn incense to create aromas around the altar, just as they did in pre-Hispanic times. 

The event culminates at the cemetery. Families spend a whole day cleaning tombs,
decorating them with candles and flowers, having picnics and dancing to the sound of mariachi bands. In indigenous times, this cleaning and decorating of the tombs was meant to help encourage souls along the right path after death.

Mexican tradition explains that, in order to facilitate the return of souls to Earth, marigold petals should be strewn around and candles placed to form the path that these souls should follow in order to find their way and not get lost.

If you’re thinking about a trip to Mexico at this time of year, be prepared to see the streets full of papier-mâché skeletons dressed up in clothes and hats. Typical cakes and flowers can also be found everywhere. The celebrations take place all over the country, but the Day of the Dead is most popular in southern Mexico where the indigenous culture remains strongest. In Oaxaca, one of the culturally richest states in terms of the Day of the Dead celebrations. 

Day of the Dead Altars

In Oaxaca, the home altars are extremely important. People decorate them with a white or perforated paper table cloth and divide them into different steps, each step having its own special meaning: the first represents the grandparents and/or adults while the second or successive steps are for everyone else. In Alcaldía de Tláhuac, Mexico City, there is a small town by the name of Mixquic (which means ‘where the mesquite is’). This is one of the most popular places to visit during these celebrations because they have maintained the closest ties to Mexican traditions and the town’s annual festival is held at the same time. ‘La Alumbrada’ takes place on 2 November, when thousands of candles illuminate tombs decorated with flowers.


A number of Bahia Principe hotels can be found in this cradle of civilisations surrounded by natural landscapes of outstanding beauty. A fascinating destination where you can explore the footprints of what was one of the oldest cultures on the planet. And where the historic Tulum and every region of the country seem to be touched by the gods.

Where to sleep in the Riviera Maya?

The Bahia Principe hotels located in Riviera Maya offer a unique opportunity to experience a holiday packed with culture and spectacular landscapes. Because this is such a special day for the people of Mexico, all hotel staff get heavily involved – from the kitchen to the entertainment department. The entire hotel is decorated in the famous Day of the Dead style. At Hacienda Doña Isabel, guests will be able to visit the numerous altars created by the various hotel departments with their offerings. 


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