Día de Los Muertos (The Day of the Dead) is not a time for sadness and morning but a time for happiness and celebration
Dane Fishbaugh, Kids’ Club Spanish School, San Francisco, CA
26  October 2020
From midnight October 31st through November 2nd, the veil between the living and the dead thins. The living remember and reunite with their family members who awaken from their eternal sleep and pass over from the land of the dead into the land of the living.

By keeping the memories of their loved ones alive they are not forgotten, and therefore remain alive in their hearts, allowing them to come back and reunite year after year.  It is a visually stunning, vibrant and important holiday celebrated in Mexico, as well as in other Central and South American countries. You’ll find traditional and non-traditional celebrations in other nations around the world as well, such as in Spain.

We thought it would be fun to highlight some of the beautiful traditions that take place in 5 cities around the world to give everyone a taste of this spectacular holiday. Of course, with the global pandemic some of these traditions have been modified considerably this year.

Mexico City

There’s no better time to be in Mexico’s capital city than during the Day of the Dead. Like the city itself it goes big when celebrating this holiday. One of the biggest and most extravagant ways Mexico City celebrates is during its annual Day of the Dead parade, known in the city as Desfile de Día de Muertos

Hundreds of thousands of people come downtown to watch this carnaval-esque parade! The parade highlights the region’s vibrant ancient ancestral traditions. It  features indigenous performers showcasing their traditional dances and music, giant skeleton puppets, Alebrijes (mythical spirit creatures) huge ofrenda (altars honoring the dead) floats.

One of the most famous symbols of Day of the Dead, the Catrina, can be seen everywhere. Catrinas are elegantly dressed skeletons decked out in beautiful dresses and fancy hats with intricate face paint. This parade is actually a relatively new tradition started in 2016 inspired by the 2015 James Bond movie SpectreThe opening scene features James Bond wearing a skull mask as he walks through a sea of day of the dead parade participants and spectators. Some of the actual props used in the movie are used in the parade today.


Oaxaca, Mexico

Another one of the biggest celebrations in Mexico takes place in the eclectic city of Oaxaca, Mexico

Oaxaca is considered the culinary and cultural city of Mexico. All it takes to experience the excitement is to simply take a step outside. On practically every street a party or a parade will be taking place. Stop by one of the hundreds of face painting stations to get yourself into the spirit. Mouthwatering treats await throughout the city and none so famous as the Pan de Muertos (bread of the dead). Stopping into a local panaderia to try this sweet bread bathed in sugar is a must and can be eaten as a breakfast or as a dessert. 

Colorful sand tapestries (known as tapetes de arenawith Día de Los Muertos imagery can be found everywhere. It is truly magical in this city during this time. One of the ways this city loves to celebrate is to show off its artistic talent in an annual ofrenda contest. As you walk around the city there will be home-made ofrendas on display everywhere. Schools, market places and social organizations hold contests for the most intricate and beautifully designed ofrendas. The ofrenda is one of the most endearing symbols of the holiday. It is a type of altar created to honor the memory of a deceased family member. On the altar you will see photographs of the deceased and marigold flowers representing the fragility of life. Candles, decorative skulls, and various items that the person loved throughout their life such as musical instruments, a favorite drink, or certain foods that they loved are on display. The belief is that the deceased family member will be drawn to the ofrenda and be closer with their loved ones.

Sumpango, Sacatepéquez, Guatemala

One of the most unique celebrations takes place on November 1st in Sumpango, Sacatepéquez, Guatemala where a giant kite festival known as Barriletes Gigantes held in the Sacatepéquez cemetery.

It is believed that the kites will reach the spirits of their loved ones and express their love for them. This festival has been taking place for thousands of years! Preparations for this celebration start months before the celebration. The kites take up to a month to build, the first day marked by the village’s unmarried men heading out to the coast to collect bamboo for the kite frames. Every part of the kite is made using natural products. The glue is made from yucca flower, lemon peel, and water. The ropes are made of the maguey plant (the plant that tequila is also made from), and the tails are made from woven cloth. The kites are of all different shapes and sizes, some are huge up to 20 meters (65 feet) made of cloth and paper tied to a bamboo frame. The vibrantly colored designs on the kites depict religious or folkloric themes.

The locals come early to the cemetery bringing their kites which will not be flown until around dusk. They come dressed in bright colors and cheerful smiles as they begin to clean the gravesites and decorate them with flowers and candles. Later in the afternoon they will set out a picnic right next to their departed family members and have a joyful meal together. Family members bring food and drinks that the dead enjoyed in life. Once dusk falls upon the land the kites take flight and it is truly an inspiring site.

Los Angeles, California

Los Angeles is home to the largest Latino population in the United States comprising 5.8 million people. It is a wonderful place to be to experience Dia de Los Muertos.

For more than 30 years the celebrations at Olvera Street have become a one-of-a-kind place to experience this holiday. Olivera Street is a pedestrian only walkway of shops. This 9 day festival features food merchants, live music and parades, face painting and children’s workshops, ofrenda competitions, theatre performances and ends with a nightly procession at 7 PM. All of this fun and entertainment is free for the public to enjoy which makes this surely one of the musts to do when in LA for Día de Los Muertos.

Aguascalientes, Mexico

Aguascalientes has one of the longest and largest Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico. And while most cities celebrate over three days, Aguascalientes celebrates over the course of a week.

The city is most known for its Festival de Calaveras or Festival of Skulls. The main purpose of this colorful festival is to preserve the Day of the Dead traditions and to pay homage to one of Mexico’s most beloved artists who was born in Aguascalientes, José Guadalupe Posada. He is internationally acclaimed for his engravings, illustrations, and creation of the Catrina which is now one of the most famous characters represented in Day of the Dead celebrations. This festival is one of the most important tourist attractions to the state with more than 350 cultural, gastronomical, artistic, and musical attractions to enjoy.

These, and other traditions, are an important way of keeping familial bonds strong during this sacred, introspective and joyous holiday. There are many cultures where death is only observed as a time for sadness and mourning. Día de Los Muertos is an amazing example of how to celebrate those who have died, by celebrating and remembering the lives of those who have passed on.

During our live one-on-one Spanish immersion classes for kids aged 5 to 13, many teachers will teach vocabulary words related to “Día de los muertos”. Homework assignments will be sent to the students for them to study these vocabulary words. Our classes are a fun and dynamic way for kids to learn the Spanish language and to learn culture related to the Spanish speaking world. Sign your child up for a free trial class to help them begin their polyglot journey.

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