Halloween vs. Dia de los Muertos


Halloween is traditionally a dark night of terror and disaster. People believed it was the only night of the year when witches and ghosts haunted the world of the living. On October 31st, Halloween parties are to be held here for the young and old alike. Scary faces are carved into pumpkins, and witches, devils, skeletons, and ghosts walk through the streets. Children knock on doors and then ask, “trick or treat?” Religious people might go to the cemetery the following day and commemorate the deceased.

The situation in Mexico is very different. Although the theme here is death, the Mexicans celebrate a joyful festival because they are happy to see the deceased again. According to ancient Mexican belief, the dead come to visit from the afterlife once a year. With decorated streets, colorful disguises, great make-up, music, food, and dance, they remember the deceased and celebrate life. This festivity is so unique that in 2003 UNESCO declared the Dia de Los Muertos a masterpiece of the oral and immaterial heritage of humanity.

a woman in her costume and face paint which represents the dia de los Muertos

The process of Halloween in Mexico

Already days before, the families start decorating the colorful “Ofrendas”. Altars get placed in houses, on the street, or on public buildings and are filled with numerous offerings. Besides photos of the deceased, there are flowers, delicacies such as sugar skulls (“Calaveras de Dulce”), the traditional sweet skull bread (“Pan de Muerto”), skeletons, and coffins made of marzipan and incense. The drinks are not to be missed either, they are supposed to quench the thirst of the dead after the long journey from the hereafter. So make sure to grab a drink or two with your Mexico travel buddies.

The streets and houses are decorated with “Papel Picado” (silhouettes of colored paper), and the path from the cemetery to the altars is decorated with orange-yellow flowers (“Cempasúchil”). These are meant to serve as signposts because the orange-yellow color represents the light of the sun’s rays, which is supposed to attract and guide the souls of the dead. Processions, concerts, and other festivities take place in the streets. Many Mexican women disguise themselves as the famous skeleton lady “La Catrina,” who has become a classical symbol for the “Dia de Los Muertos.”

On the night of October 31st, the souls of the deceased children (Angelitos) are received. As soon as the sun sets on November 2nd, the families meet at the graves in the cemetery, bring gifts to the deceased, and celebrate the end of the “Day of the Dead.” There is plenty to drink and eat, there is singing, dancing, and laughing together. So everything but a sad farewell party!

little tea lights

The best places to experience the day of the dead

Every city in Mexico celebrates the Day of the Dead. Many villages have naturally developed their own traditions. In Tuxtepec, in the state of Oaxaca, for example, the altars are also decorated with carpets made of sawdust. Colorful religious and flower motifs decorate these carpets. A competition for the most magnificent sawdust carpet is held in Tuxtepec every year.

Oaxaca is considered the cultural capital of Mexico and one of the best places to celebrate the Dia de Los Muertos!

the Mexican flag


If you haven’t been spooked enough yet, now is probably the time to plan your own trip to Mexico to experience these festivities live. Of course, you will need the right travel buddies – you can find them at JoinMyTrip.