Day of the Dead / Día de los Muertos in México: meaning, origin and travel tips (Trip, Excursion, tour, from Mexico City)

Have you ever wondered why the Day of the Dead (Día de Muertos) is celebrated? This Mexican celebration teaches us that death is part of life and that we should celebrate it !

Note: in 2019, with Aztec Explorers, we have again prepared a couple of unique trips, to experience Día de Muertos the Mexican way. For example:

  1. A long, amazing day trip to Patzcuaro and surrounding in the State of Michoacan
  2. A day trip to 3 beautiful neighborhoods in Mexico City (Barrios Mágicos); San Angel, Coyoacan and lesser known graveyard
  3. A day trip to Tlahuac an Mixquic, another 2 beautiful neigborhoods in Mexico City + Mixquic graveyard).

See all our options for 2019 at the end of this blog.

The Day of the Dead is a Mexican tradition of pre-Hispanic origin.
The main holidays are the 1st and 2nd of November. However, the preparations begin many weeks before and the beauty and complexity of this celebration has attracted the attention of everyone. In fact, UNESCO named it Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2008. Delve into its origins and know the elements that make up this endearing Mexican fiesta!

Day of the Dead - Michoacan - Tzintzuntzan

Purépecha girls lightning up the candles on the grave of their recently deceased grandfather, Tzintzuntzan, State of Michoacan – By Aztec Exporers – Peter Winckers

It’s a fact: nobody escapes death. However, despite the pain that it may cause, from the indigenous people, Mexicans have learned to perceive it as a stage in which we should rejoice.

This celebration is native to the pre-Hispanic era. In that period, many Mesoamerican ethnic groups worshiped death. Among them was the Aztecs, whose gods in charge of defining the destiny of the souls were Mictecacíhuatl and Mictlantecuhtli. Both were Lords of Mictlán, or “place of the dead”. However, to get to Mictlan, the souls had to overcome a series of obstacles in order to achieve eternal rest.

According to the Florentine Codex, Mictlan was divided according to the type of death. For example, in the Tonatiuh Ichan -house of the sun- entered those warriors who had died on the battlefield. Another place was the Cincalco, home of the god Tonacatecutli; to this place went children, because as being so young, they were considered innocent.

However, for the souls to start the journey, the living were responsible for accompanying them by means of a ritual. This began with the death of a close being. The death was announced with crying and screams issued by the elderly women of the community. Then the deceased was dressed up and put alongside with all his personal belongings. Subsequently, the body was symbolically fed with the most exquisite delicacies.

After four days, the body was taken to be burried or cremated. From that moment on, the soul embarked on a difficult journey. Then, every year for four years, complex ceremonies were held in the place where the ashes or the body of the deceased were found. Thus, this ritual not only helped the souls to rest but also facilitated the grieving process of the relatives.

With the arrival of the European population, this ritual underwent a process of adaption. The celebration of the god of the underworld joined together with the celebration of the deceased and the process was reinvented until it was conceived as we know it now. The Lord of the Dead, Mictlantecuhtli, was celebrated in the month that we now know as November. This coincidence with All Saints Day was taken advantage of by the evangelizers during the Colony to make it a mix between Christianity and the autochthonous religious beliefs.

Originally, the altars were put a couple of days before November 1 and 2, that is, October 30 or 31 and remained until 3. Now, it is very common that, due to the creative effort that is invested in placing them, we can enjoy them over a longer period of time.

It is generally believed that the souls of the children return to visit on October 31 / November 1, and that the souls of the adults return on November 1 / November 2. Or, in even more details: some festivities begin on October 28, which is when people who died in an accident are remembered; on October 30, babies who died before being baptized are remembered; on October 31, children under 12 are celebrated; All Saints Day is November 1 and those who died of natural causes or illness are remembered; and on November 2, after 12 a.m., according to the belief, is when the souls of the deceased leave and the offerings are collected.

To be able to experience these unique traditions the Mexican way, in 2019 we have again prepared several events before, during and after Día de Muertos, with with Aztec Explorers. See our entire program below:

Note: below is the program of last year (2018); soon we will update will all our events this year, for example 1) A long day trip to Patzcuaro and surrounding in the State of Michoacan + 2) A day trip to 3 beautiful neighborhoods in Mexico City, San Angel, Coyoacan and lesser known graveyard + 3) A day trip to Tlahuac an Mixquic, another 2 beautiful neigborhoods in Mexico City + Mixquic graveyard).

Día de Muertos - Program 2018 Aztec Explorers

All details of all trips in English on Meetup:
Todos los detalles de todos los eventos en Español en Facebook:
About us:
A beautiful blog about Día de Muertos, of our friend Lauren Claire, who joined us on one of our trips to Patzcuaro, Isla Janitzio and Tzintzuntzan: “Let me die like a Mexican”:

¨When I’m gone – with any luck many years from now – let me be remembered as Mexicans are. Let bright orange blossoms, the gentle glow of candles and the smell of my favourite foods guide me home. Let me be brought back to life once a year through the love and laughter of those who knew me. Let my memory bring joy to anyone I leave behind¨.

Leave a Reply