Unique Traditions: Day of the Dead

The Day of the Dead

Like so many things in Mexican culture, death is a many layered concept. For some people it’s viewed as a time to solemnly honor those who aren’t with us anymore. This includes anyone from close relatives, pets and even strangers. In this particular point of view of death, people place altars better known as “ofrendas” which have several key elements to make them as authentic as possible.

Let’s talk about ofrendas

Ofrendas are mainly decorated with Papel picado, which is thin colorful paper with cut outs that resemble skulls. Another main element you’ll find in ofrendas, and pretty much anywhere around town in the months of October and November, is a flower called Cempasuchil. This orange flower is arranged in certain ways that “guide” the dead. But what truly makes it a personal altar, is placing things that the person we are honoring loved.

Themed ofrendas

A common theme for public space ofrendas, are celebrities. Such is the case of the Coyoacan house of Emilio Fernandez. Famously known for his place in Mexican cinema in the first half of the twentieth century, “El Indio” Fernandez is still talked about today for the transformation of his house every year into a huge altar for many celebrities. With the elements previously mentioned drowning the walls and hallways of the house, you will find many Mexican pop culture icons being honored like Maria Felix, Cantiflas, Pedro Infante and Frida Kahlo. It’s a must in your trip around Coyoacan to stop by and take a tour.


The other side of the day of the day of the Dead celebrations includes shedding a light on this serious topic with humor. Poems called calaveritas are written in rhyme with topics that include death as a humorous character that encounters people who either get taken away or are able to cleverly escape their fate through word play. It’s not uncommon also to escape their fate by offering death a drink. This is another clear example of how, rather than shying away from this somber topic, Mexicans love to see death in the face and meet it with a life well lived.

Not to be confused with Halloween, the day of the Dead, is an authentic Mexican experience that is best lived through those who inhabit this country. It’s definitely worth the visit to Mexico during this time of year, to be able to see, taste and enjoy all of the colorful celebrations surrounding this incredible tradition.


Ofrenda at Nima Local House 2017.