As the Western world anticipates Halloween, Mexico is preparing for its annual Day of the Dead festival.
Dia de Los Muertos is a three-day holiday in which families and friends honour the dead with vigils and offerings of food, flowers and prayer.
Although the event is synonymous with Mexico, many countries in Latin America also mark Day of the Dead. The holiday is recognised by UNESCO who, in 2008, added the day to its Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list.
Day of the Dead celebrations have spanned centuries with the holiday falling in ninth month of the Aztec calendar. It was dedicated to the Lady of Death, Mictlancíhuatl, who protected and watched over those in the afterlife.
The Aztecs and Toltec chose not to mourn the dead, as death is a natural phase in life’s continuum, but pay tribute to their lives. And so the Day of the Dead slowly developed into the festival celebrated in modern times.
Day of the Dead begins on 31 October and ends on 2 November. The first day of the holiday – Dia de los Angelitos (Day of the Little Angels) – is dedicated to honouring the dead children. Celebrations shift the following day to pay tribute to the lives of the departed adults, while the final day celebrates all the spirits of all dead.
While Day of the Dead coincides with Halloween, it differs from the holiday. Halloween – originating from an ancient Celtic festival – began to ward of spirits while Day of the Dead celebrates the lives of loved ones no longer around. The festival is not the only one to do so, many around the world celebrate All Souls’ Day to celebrate the lives of their departed. Day of the Dead, however, is unique in its traditions.
An important part of Day of the Dead involves families visiting the cemetery and spending time at the graves of loved ones. There they build graveyard altars – known as ofrendas – and adorn the shrine with marigolds, colourful crafts – known as papel picado – and personal items and favourite foods of the deceased.
Day of the Dead celebrations often spill out on streets with a number of street parties and parades taking place throughout the three days. Participants will don colourful costumes and paint their faces often as intricate skulls mimicking Calavera Catrina, an early 1900’s cartoon that has become synonymous with death.
Recent years has seen the rise of Mexico City’s Day of the Dead parade, which follows a specific theme each year, and is complete with floats, marionettes and hundreds of performers. The huge march came about as a way for tourists to experience the festival for themselves while allowing locals a platform to celebrate together.
The first parade came in 2016 following James Bond film Spectre, which featured a huge parade set in the city in its opening scene.