Last updated on 19 October 2018
As Mexico prepares to celebrate the Day of the Dead, visitors from around the world are invited to experience this unique holiday. Every corner of the country, from the island of Janitzio in Michoacán, passing through the towns of Chiapas and the great Zócalo of Mexico City, will be dressed in color and tradition waiting for millions of visitors who seek to participate in one of the most spectacular celebrations that exist.
Named Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2008 by UNESCO, the Day of the Dead is an unforgettable experience for both visitors and locals alike. It is an ancestral legacy inherited from different pre-Hispanic cultures combined with the celebration of the Catholic All Saints’ Day and is observed from the end of October through the first week of November. Based on popular belief, the deceased return each year to visit their relatives and coexist with the living to enjoy their offerings such as favorite foods and drinks.
“It’s a tradition that has mixed with popular culture and has become a celebration that belongs to everyone. Nowhere else can visitors experience such a colorful, magical and surreal celebration,” said Hector Flores Santana, CEO of the Mexico Tourism Board (MTB). “Our cultural offering is one of the reasons why Mexico has become the 6th most visited country in the world. The celebration honors the past and our ancestors and is a standing invitation for everyone to visit and discover why Mexico is a world of its own.”
The Day of the Dead in Mexico is one of the most important celebrations in the world and it attracts more than 7.5 million international tourists each year who wish to experience its cultural and gastronomic traditions. According to figures from Mexico’s Secretary of Tourism (SECTUR), the celebrations of November 1 and 2 will result in a revenue of more than US$208 million for the tourism industry.
The set of practices and traditions that occur in the country for this holiday, both in cities and smaller towns, are mainly located in states such as Aguascalientes, Guanajuato, Michoacán, Oaxaca, Puebla, San Luis Potosi and Mexico City.
With more than one kilometer (0.6 miles) in length, and with the states of Aguascalientes, Oaxaca, Michoacán and San Luis Potosi as special guests, the traditional Day of the Dead Parade will be held in Mexico City for the third time on Saturday, October 27, 2018. Larger-than-life skulls, floats and catrinas will flow through the Paseo de la Reforma from the monument of La Estela de Luz to the capital’s Zocalo, which will become the scene of mega offerings for the deceased. There will be free concerts of rock, jazz, blues and traditional Mexican music to conclude a day full of colors and flavors.
Last year, the parade had more than one million attendees and more than 1,500 volunteers responsible for filling the streets of the city with energy and joy. Many volunteers came from different parts of Mexico and beyond. This year, nearly 2,000 organizers and volunteers are expected.
Day of the Dead beyond Mexico
As part of the promotional actions carried out by the MTB and SECTUR this year, the Day of the Dead traveled beyond the country with its “Heart of Mexico” activation that brought the festivity to various cities in North America and Europe in order to inform and create excitement for this thousand-year-old celebration.
Unique personalities such as El Charro, Frida and Diego visited iconic landmarks and monuments around the world, including Central Park in New York City, the CN Tower in Toronto, the Victory Column in Berlin and the Eiffel Tower in Paris. “Heart of Mexico” is an invitation for the residents of these cities to travel to Mexico and experience first-hand what the tradition of Day of the Dead has to offer.
New York City will also have a local taste of the celebration at the American Museum of Natural History on November 2nd and 3rd. Together with the state of Oaxaca and MTB, the museum will house altars dedicated to extinct animal species, as well as a handcraft market, dances, music, and artisanal demonstrations as visitors learn about Oaxaca and how the Day of the Dead is celebrated in this iconic New York cultural institution.
More about the Day of the Dead
In Mexico, death is considered part of the cycle of life and has been celebrated since pre-Columbian times. For example, in Aztec mythology, the deceased embarked on a long journey before reaching Mictlán, the region of the dead.
The various elements and rituals associated with the celebration make the Day of the Dead unlike any other holiday in the world. . Families create altars in their homes and offer the favorite foods and objects of sentimental values and memories to the souls of their loved ones. Typical objects at the altar include the characteristic cempasuchil flower and the delicious Pan de Muertos.
Traditions vary in all regions and some are unique to Mexico’s states and cities.
- Year after year, Aguascalientes performs the Calaveras Festival that pays tribute to the artist José Guadalupe Posada, creator of the famous “Catrina,” a symbol of the Day of the Dead celebrations.
- Guanajuato hosts the famous Catrinas Parade, which takes place every November 1, in which people dress like these characters from a theme that changes in each edition.
- One of the biggest festivities in Veracruz is the Mictlán Festival, which welcomes musical performances and artists.
- In Oaxaca, the residents build the Plaza de la Muerte, where tourists can get lost among the products that are handmade by artisans specifically for these dates. For this, traditional comparsas (groups of singers) play music for more than 20 hours for the celebration of the traditional “Muerteadas.”
- In San Luis Potosí, the Xantolo is the most important celebration in the area. On November 1, there is a vigil with prayers. On November 2, in the indigenous communities, it is customary to take the offerings to the pantheons and to adorn the tombs with flowers for the souls that, according to the belief of the region, remain on the earth all month.
- The island of Janitzio in Michoacan honors the “angelitos” – those who passed away as children – on a nocturnal procession. It takes place on November 1 where canoes are adorned with countless candles, carrying delicious dishes and drinks, and accompanied by music to welcome those who return from death.
- In Mexico City, millions of visitors come together in the San Andrés Mixquic pantheon to receive the souls of the dead at sunset; and in Xochimilco, the staging of La Llorona¸ the Weeping Woman, a legend that attracts locals and strangers year after year.
Mexico the sixth most visited country in the world
Celebrations such as the Day of the Dead have placed Mexico as one of the favorite destinations of international tourism. The country registered an arrival of 39.3 million international visitors during 2017, making it the sixth most visited country in the world according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
Last year, Mexico airports received 637,700 domestic and international flights that transported 68 million people. This figure represented an increase of 2.2% in flights and an increase of 9.3% in passengers compared to the previous year.