Last Updated:

Want to know more about the Day of the Dead in Mexico? Here are 15 interesting day of the dead facts that you probably didn’t know before reading this! 

It’s not the Mexican version of Halloween

They might occur around the same dates of the year, but Dia de Muertos and Halloween are not related at all, and shouldn’t be confused with the Halloween celebrations.

People don’t dress up for the day of the dead to go trick-or-treating or ward off evil spirits, they do so to honor their dead relatives and celebrate death and life. 

The celebration goes on for 3 days

While the holiday is named “The Day of the Dead” it actually goes on for longer than 1 day. It begins every year on the 31 October and ends 3 days later with the grand finale on 2 November, also known as Dia de Muertos. 

Day of the Dead

Photo: Dina Julayeva / Shutterstock.com

It’s believed that the dead will join the world of the living

Mexicans believe that their deceased relatives can travel from the world of the dead to the world of the living for 24 hours on the Day of the Dead.

This is also the reason why food is prepared for the dead as well as the living, and why the ofrenda will have foods and drinks that the deceased used to love.

Day of the Dead originated in Mexico

The celebration of Dia de Muertos goes back at least 2000 years in time. Both the Aztec and Toltec people, as well as other Nahua people, were celebrating this every year, and they also believed that the dead were able to join the living world. 

The specific place and date of origin are unknown, but it’s an ancient tradition that stems from the idea that even when someone died, they continued to be part of the community. This concept is perhaps one of the most interesting day of the dead facts that differ from Christian beliefs. 

Day of the Dead origins

Photo: Dina Julayeva / Shutterstock.com

It’s known as Hanal Pixan in the Yucatan peninsula

There are several regional differences in Mexico when it comes to celebrating Dia de Muertos, one such example is the ancient Mayan tradition known as Hanal Pixan, which has many similarities, but also some differences. 

Hanal Pixan means “food for the souls” in the Mayan language, and it’s celebrated throughout the Yucatan Peninsula. 

The ofrenda is an important element

The Ofrenda is the altar and offerings made to honor the deceased relatives, and welcome them back. The ofrenda usually include photographs, Marigold flowers, candles, food, candy, and toys/things that the child/person loved when living. 

An ofrenda can be prepared in the family home or by the gravestone, and it’s one of the most important elements of the celebration. 

Day of the Dead facts

Photo: Carlos Ivan Palacios / Shutterstock.com

Calavera Catrina has become the icon of the celebration

La Calavera Catrina quickly became the icon for Dia de Muertos in the 20th century. Originally, La Catrina was painted as a satirical portrait by Jose Guadalupe Posada that depicted a female skeleton wearing a fancy hat.

It was meant to be a commentary on the upper class of Mexico at the time who were influenced by European sophistication. In 1947 the famous artist Diego Rivero remade La Calavera Catrina and gave her a body in his famous mural known as “Sueño de una Tarde Dominical en la Alameda Central”.

Since then, the elegant skeleton woman has become the icon of the celebration and many women will dress up in a similar fashion. 

La Calavera Catrina

The day of the dead parade in Mexico City started in 2016

One of the shocking Day of the Dead facts is the origins of the big parade in Mexico City. As a foreigner, and perhaps even a Mexican from another region it might come as a surprise that this was first invented in 2016.

The parade in Mexico City will be held for the fourth time in 2019, and while it’s a new part of the tradition, it already attracts millions of spectators. 

Where to celebrate the day of the day

Photo: Byelikova Oksana / Shutterstock.com

It’s a celebration of the dead

Foreigners sometimes think that Dia de Muertos is a time for mourning or to be sad since they are thinking about their dead relatives, but it couldn’t be more wrong.

It’s a time for laughter and to celebrate rather than grieving, and families are reminiscing the memories of the departed souls. That is also why so many sugar skulls and skeletons are smiling rather than looking scary. 

Death is simply a transition and the Day of the Dead is a chance to get together and share a meal with deceased relatives. 

The Sugar skull represents a departed soul

Sugar skulls are found everywhere in Mexico around the times of celebrating Dia de Muertos, and each one represents a deceased relative when they are placed on the ofrenda.

The family will usually write the name of the departed soul in the forehead of the sugar skull to honor their return to the world of the living. 

Calavera

Photo: Suriel Ramzal/Shutterstock

5 x Day of the dead facts for kids

  • Dia de los Angelitos is specially dedicated to deceased children
  • The Celebration begins on 31 October and ends on the night of 2 November
  • It’s very typical to get your face painted as a skeleton
  • The orange Marigold flowers are used to guide the departed souls to their altar
  • Pan de Muerto is a typical bread for the holiday
Pan de Muertos

Photo: AGCuesta/Shutterstock

General facts about the Day of the Dead

  • Other names: Dia de Muertos
  • Date: 31 October to 2 November
  • Country of origin: Mexico
  • Type of event: Celebration for the dead

Other short facts about the day of the dead

  • It’s also celebrated in other countries
  • Fort Lauderdale, San Antonio, and Tucson have the biggest Day of the dead celebrations in the U.S 
  • Hairless dogs are believed to lead the dead back to their world when the party is over
  • Celebrations with food and music are often held in the graveyard
  • Every altar (ofrenda) must include the four elements of nature: wind, water, fire and earth

How many of these Day of the Dead facts did you already know? Leave a comment below!