Day of the Dead traditions to enliven your senses

November makes you all warm and fuzzy inside doesn’t it? It usually means the holiday season is just around the corner, after all.

October, 2019

Warmth and fuzziness are already in full flow in Mexico at the beginning of the month, with colorful Day of the Dead traditions in remembrance of those who are very much alive in the hearts and minds of their loved ones.

As well as winning over the hearts of millions, the beautiful Pixar-produced offering on this theme, a couple of years back, has also aided in making such Mexican traditions a trendy topic. So, what is it about this feast day that triggers heartwarming emotions and stimulates the senses?

So, what is it about this feast day that triggers heartwarming emotions and stimulates the senses?

Enjoy Day of the Dead traditions during your vacations in Mexico


Day of the Dead sweetbread or Pan de Muerto is a must-try, and can often be spotted from as early as September, given its unique popularity. This semi-sweet roll is commonly presented with a dusting of granulated sugar (representing the soil in which the departed are buried), decorated with sweetbread “bones”, and is often paired (perfectly) with traditional hot chocolate. 

Variations in dough and decoration abound throughout Mexico with each region adding its own delicious touch. If you happen to be enjoying all-inclusive family vacations in Cancun or the Riviera Maya around this time, for example, you might get to try the homemade Pan de Muerto prepared at Palace Resorts, which offers a subtle hint of the Middle East through a touch of orange blossom and other spices.

Pan de Muerto and sugar skulls are a must-try during the Day of the Dead festivities


One thing Mexican culture is famous for when it comes to commemorating the Day of the Dead is doing so with humor. One such example is the “La Catrina”, the elegant figure of a female skeleton, exuding an air of self-pride and dressed to the nines. This iconic figure found its roots in the early 1900s in artwork by satirical artist Jose Guadalupe Posada, which appeared in Mexican publications, depicting upper-crust skeletons as a way of poking fun at sections of society who went to great lengths to appear wealthy and aristocratic. The underlying message was that whatever society you moved in and whatever you looked like, “death is democratic” and everyone is going to end up as a skeleton. 

La Catrina became even more famous in the 1940s when artist Diego Rivera (Frida Kahlo’s husband) depicted her in a 15-meter mural. Don’t be surprised, therefore, to see people with Catrina (or Catrin)-style makeup and attire during Day-of-the-Dead-related events, or to find souvenir stores filled with intricate Catrina figurines.

Another humorous wink to life and death is through the delightful practice of writing “Calaveritas” which are playful poems about prominent figures in society, friends or loved ones. Calaverita-writing contests are commonplace in workplaces around the country and special events


A central feature of any Day of the Dead commemorations are the ofrendas or altars dedicated to loved ones or famous people who are no longer with us. These colorfully-decorated offerings traditionally have 3 tiers, with photos of the loved one and religious imagery on the top level, the person’s favorite food and drink on the second tier, and lit candles on the bottom level.  Cempasuchitl (Mexican marigold) petals are likely to be scattered in and around the altars, as an indicator of the fragility of life; and you will probably spot finely-decorated sugar skulls, with the beloved person’s name engraved on the forehead. 

Many families lovingly build altars in their homes, and in public events or workplaces, there are often contests for the most creative altar, encouraging active participation in Day of the Dead history and traditions.

One thing is for sure, you can always find cultural things to do and Day-of-the-Dead-related activities for kids in Cancun, the Riviera Maya and beyond, on and around November 1st and 2nd, whether this be face painting, themed shows or more. 

This year, celebrate the joy of being alive by breathing in the sweet smell of copal and cempasuchitl flowers, smiling through happy tears at the loving and often humorous epitaphs on decorated tombstones or make a heartwarming toast to those who led the way before us.

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J Curtis
J Curtis
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We celebrated our daughter’s graduation from Dental school and my birthday May 23-30. From start to finish we had a great week! The accommodations were fabulous, the restaurants were excellent and the service was over the top!