Day of the Dead and Halloween – fun and facts

Ok, it’s true…. in Mexico we love a good fiesta! Any given week there’s a national or religious festivity going on: Independence Day, Revolution day, Virgen Guadalupe Day, etc.  And everybody gets involved: young and old!

Day of the Dead (in Spanish: “Noche de Muertos”) or All Saints is another important date on the celebration calendar. It’s celebrated on November 1st and 2nd. The Dancing Chefs at Salsa and Salsa set up their altars at home too. But year by year another spooky party is creeping into Mexico: Halloween! Seemingly celebrating the same theme: “Death”, each festivity has their own peculiar details.

Day of the Dead:

  1. altar de muertosThis celebration has prehispanic roots, where death doesn’t represent the end of a life but a continuation of life in a parallel world. The day when the dead could return was a month after the autumn equinox. Afer the Spanish invasion the date was made to coincide with All Saints.
  2. It is celebrated on November 1st and 2nd.
  3. Unlike Halloween, you don’t ask anything but rather give offerings. By setting up altars you pay tribute to those who passed away and invite them back to visit the land of the living for one night.
  4. la catrinaYou place candles and marigold flowers to guide the way for the souls to find their way home.
  5. The altars are set up inside people’s houses for family, close friends or relatives who passed away.
  6. The altars are decorated with many colors. Usually people place the favorite food and drinks of the departed on the altar as well as a photo.
  7. You don’t get dressed up for Day of the Dead, but it is common to see the representation of death as a lady (“La Catrina”)
  8. Typical candies are sugar skulls and Pan de Muerto, which is a sweet bread with ‘bones’ of bread on top.





  1. Trick or treaters on the porchThe  name of this festivity comes from “All Hallows Eve”.
  2. Halloween dates back to the celtic celebration of “Samhain”. The Celts believed that on October 31st the lines between this world and other worlds could be crossed easily, allowing spirits to enter into the land of the living.
  3. To scare the spirits entering our world, people get dressed up in terrifying outfits.
  4. In Halloween the spirits arriving from other worlds are evil and provoke fear, unlike Day of the Dead where the souls come back to celebrate with their families.
  5. spooky decorationsChildren ask for “Trick or Treat”, impersonating the evil spirits who come and scare us. The only way to calm them is by handing out candies.
  6. Houses are decorated with spooky decorations. The scarier the house, the less likely any evil spirits will come close.
  7. Bonfires are lit to scare off the dead and send them back to the other worlds.
  8. Typical colors used are black, orange and purple.
  9. Carving out pumpkins or “Jack o’Lanterns” is to celebrate harvest season coming to an end.

Now that you know more about the differences between Day of the Dead and Halloween, you can choose to celebrate one or both. Don’t be scared off by the skulls and skeletons walking around in Mexico. Our ancestors are fun, friendly and ready to have a wonderful fiesta!


Noche de Muertos – remembering the souls of the departed

You might have heard about this typical Mexican tradition or found yourself looking an altar for Noche de Muertos. It seems a little creepy at first, when you see the sugar skulls and images of dancing skeletons. Death in Mexico isn’t necessarily a sad thing. Often celebrations of Noche de Muertos can take a humorous tone, as celebrants remember funny events and anecdotes about the departed.

Noche de Muertos is a tradition that traces back to the Aztecs, Toltecs, Chichimecas and Mayas. Their rituals to honor death were mixed with the Catholic celebrations All-Saints day (Nov 1st) and All-Souls day (Nov 2nd) back in the time of the Spanish conquest. Traditions connected with this holiday include building private altars at home or at the office honoring the deceased using sugar skulls, marigolds, ‘pan de muertos’ (sweet egg bread) and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed and visiting graves with these as gifts. According to popular belief, during the 1st and 2nd of November the souls of the departed come back to their homes or graves to enjoy the delicious dishes that their families have prepared for them.

Each region has its own way of celebrating Noche de Muertos. For example, in the area around the Lake of Pátzcuaro in Michoacan, the tradition is very different if the deceased is a child rather than an adult. On November 1 of the year after a child’s death, the godparents set a table in the parents’ home with sweets, fruits, pan de muerto, a cross, a rosary (used to ask the Virgin Mary to pray for them) and candles. This is meant to celebrate the child’s life, in respect and appreciation for the parents. There is also dancing with colorful costumes, often with skull-shaped masks and devil masks in the plaza or garden of the town. At midnight on November 2, the people light candles and ride winged boats called mariposas (Spanish for “butterflies”) to Janitzio, an island in the middle of the lake where there is a cemetery, to honor and celebrate the lives of the dead there. Other people spend all night beside the graves of their relatives. In many places, people have picnics at the grave site as well.

Mazatlan celebrates in its own exuberant way. Home to the biggest beer brewery on the Pacific coast, during Noche de Muertos there is a donkey pulling a cart with barrels of beer from where the alcohol flows freely. The beer cart drives along altars that have been set-up in the historic centre. There is one person that embodies ‘Death’ as a beautiful lady dressed in black with a veil. In the procession there is Sinaloan ‘banda’ music playing live and there are many people that are dressed up as ‘calacas’ (colloquial name for skeletons) that dance to the music. The celebration is not solemn, but more festive. You have to experience it, to see that Noche de Muertos isn’t scary at all!




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