Día de los muertos 2022

We have many traditions and customs for honouring loved ones who have died.  However, there are many cultures around the world that find different ways to mark death and celebrate life.

Día de los Muertos, or Day Of The Dead, is one of the most recognisable.  This Mexican festival takes place on 1st and 2nd November every year.  It has been in existences for over 3,000 years but it’s timing, and its colourful sugar skull imagery, often means it is confused with Halloween.  In fact, Día de la Muertos is very different, with a unique meaning and purpose.  Whilst Halloween was designed to ward off evil spirits ahead of All Souls Day, Día de los Muertos is a day to honour loved ones we have lost.  Many people believe that the spirits of the dead return to earth to celebrate with their families and friends.

Children will almost certainly be familiar with the festival through films such as Coco and The Book Of Life, whereas adults might recognise the parade from the Bond film Spectre.

There are some key traditions around the festival.

The Altar

Families create an altar, or ofrenda, in their homes or at the cemetery. This centrepiece is there to welcome spirits back the realm of the living.  Each one will be adorned with things to entice your loved one.  Water, food, family photos and candles will be offered.  There may also be favourite objects or toys, if it is for a child.

Marigolds are an important feature of the ofrenda, and their petals will then be scattered to guide wondering souls back to their place of rest.

The Calavera

The skull and comedic skeleton is the immediate image that comes to mind.  Originally, the calavera was a funny poem designed to poke fun at the living.  The brightly dressed skeleton that we recognise was created by José Guadalupe Posada at the beginning of the 20th Century.  He is quoted as saying “Todos somos calaveras,” or “we are all skeletons.”, implying that under our fancy clothes we are all the same.  Artist Diego Rivera created the female skeleton Catrina, slang for “the rich” in his 1947 mural, and she has become the most recognisable figure of the Día de los Muertos.

The Food

Food is an important gift to the travelling spirits, who need sustenance on their way.  As well as their favourite foods on the alter, there are other traditional dishes. 

‘Pan de muerto’, or bread of the dead, is a sweet bread decorated with skulls and teardrops, representing the sorrow of death.

Sugar skulls date back to the 17th Century, and can be beautiful works of art, intricately decorated and coloured.

There are also drinks which are sweet and comforting, made from ingredients such as cornflour, cinnamon, vanilla and milk.  Hot chocolate is also popular.

The parade

Across the days of the Día de los Muertos, people dress as skeletons in vibrant costumes with face paints and fancy dress.  They wear shells to create noise to wake the dead. The streets are decorated with ‘Papel picado’, beautiful pierced paper decorations hung in garlands and across alters.

The grand parade in Mexico City is the biggest of all the celebrations, with thousands spilling into the streets to listen to live music and a whole host of activities.

There is a carnival atmosphere and it is a time of great joy, even though it is marking death.

There are people around the world choosing to take on elements of this joyful festival as a way of remembering loved ones. Whilst a street parade might be out of the question, these days are the perfect opportunity to organise a meal, or create an altar of their favourite things.  You don’t have to believe in reawakened spirits to gather family and friends together to tell stories, share memories and celebrate the ones you love.