Day of the Dead: A unique understanding of death

Every year, Mexicans gather in cemeteries to remember their departed ones. Today Google celebrates the festivity.

    Mexico's day of the dead is characterised for being an ancient and colorfoul celebration [Misael Valtierra/Al Jazeera]
    Mexico's day of the dead is characterised for being an ancient and colorfoul celebration [Misael Valtierra/Al Jazeera]

    Every year, Mexicans gather in cemeteries to remember their departed family members. According to tradition, heaven opens on November 1 and 2 and the souls of the dead come back to earth.

    Today Google dedicates a doodle to this commemoration. 

    A hybrid of Spanish Catholic and pre-Columbian traditions, Day of the Dead has become one of the most important celebrations, revealing what many believe to be a uniquely Mexican understanding of death.

    Relatives will offer food, drinks and even toys on altars to entice the souls on holiday. The living and the dead are believed to share the meals together.


    In many parts of Mexico, familes will spend November 1 remembering the children, often referred to as angelitos (little angels), decorating their grave sites with toys and balloons, and on November 2, they will celebrate the All Souls day, dedicated to the adults who have died.

    During the celebration, families will decorate the graves; most will visit the cemeteries where their loved ones are and decorate them with ofrendas (altars). The place will also have the flowers of cempasuchil (Marigold), as these are believed to help lead spirits back from the cemetery to their family homes.

    At least death is not hidden away: he looks at it face to face, with impatience disdain or irony

    Octavio Paz, mexican writer

    Some people enjoy writing short poems, also known as calaveras (skulls):  mocking epitaphs of friends, describing interesting habits and attitudes or funny anecdotes.

    Newspapers use them to make fun of politicians and other people in the public scene. It is a way to laugh off the rich or powerful in an accepted way. This tradition started in the 18th or 19th century after a newspaper published a poem narrating a dream of a cemetery in the future.

    Another common symbol is the skull, which represents the cyclicality of life as we understand it. Foods such as sugar or chocolate skulls can be given as gifts to both the living and the dead. Pan de Muerto is also really popular, and is a bread made in different shapes, often decorated with white frosting to represent the image of twisted bones.


    The festivity is a national holiday in Mexico, but it is also celebrated in Brazil, Spain, The Philippines and parts of the US.

    UNESCO declared the festivity a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

    Octavio Paz, one of Mexico's most famous writers, noted: "The Mexican … is familiar with death, jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates with it. He thinks of it as his favorite plaything and his most lasting love."  

    "At least death is not hidden away: he looks at it face to face, with impatience, disdain or irony," he wrote. 

    In Pictures

    Some cemeteries are covered with flowers as part of the festivity [Misael Valtierra/Al Jazeera]


    Families meet the graves of the departed ones [Misael Valtierra/Al Jazeera]


    Skulls and altars are seen around the country [Misael Valtierra/Al Jazeera]

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


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