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On 1 and 2 November, the visit of loved ones who are no longer physically on this earthly plane is celebrated and expected, but their spirits come to visit us for a night. It is an opportunity to remember their presence, to feel their souls close, as if they were still here with us.
Every year, since the beginning of October (because in some Mexican communities it is said that from the 31st of October the festivities of the departed faithful begin with the visit of the souls of the little ones who are no longer physically with us).
This Mexican tradition has been celebrated since pre-Hispanic times. Perhaps not with all the elements that characterise it today, but our ancestors already had a relationship with the death of respect and where life as we know it ends, but this is the beginning of another stage. It was from the 16th century, with the arrival of the Spanish, that it became a mestizo festival as we know it today. This was mixed with the celebration of the Catholic festivities of the faithful dead: the bread of the dead, which is made with wheat and the scent of orange blossom, are elements of this Spanish influence.

Each region of Mexico, with its own customs and symbols, brought its own colour and diversity to the celebration. For example, in the city of Janitzio, in the state of Michoacán, a party is held in the cemeteries, where with candles, music and food, they pay tribute to the loved ones who have passed away. Another example is the addition of typical symbols of the region, such as the jaguar or the deer candelabra in some communities in the state of Chiapas. Two elements characterise this celebration:

The altar of the dead

The Altar of the Dead is a mixture of elements of Mexican pre-Hispanic culture and Spanish heritage. These are the signs that are present on every Mexican altar.


It symbolises the goodness of the host and the land.


They symbolise love and guide the souls of the dead to the altar.

Glass of water

To care for the thirst of souls who have undertaken the long journey to the altar and to give them the strength to return.

Picado paper garlands

It symbolises the union between life and death. Also the joy of receiving the spirits of our loved ones.


Often used as an element of purification and prayer, it drives away evil spirits and draws spirits to the altar.

Sugar or chocolate skulls

They symbolise the deceased in the family.


Symbol of the purification of souls.


Its aroma and colour will guide the spirits to the altar.


To the one or ones to whom the altar is dedicated. In addition to his favourite food. Her favourite things too: alcohol, cigars, sweets.


The white flowers symbolise heaven, the yellow ones guide the souls of the deceased to this universe.


Helps the spirits to repair their mistakes in their lives.

Bread of death

One element of Mexican gastronomy that combines pre-Hispanic Mexican tradition with colonial heritage is undoubtedly the PAN DE MUERTO or MEXICAN DEAD PEOPLE'S BREAD.
According to the oral tradition of Mexico, there are several versions of the origin of the Pan de Muerto: one of them says that in pre-Hispanic times, the inhabitants practiced human sacrifices in rituals, where a girl was sacrificed and her heart submerged in a pot with amaranth and then bitten as an offering. The Spaniards, during the Conquest, found this so violent that they sought a way to replace the ritual. So they created a heart-shaped bread of the dead made of wheat flour and covered with red sugar, to represent the heart of the young woman.
Here is the meaning of the symbols of this essential Mexican element of the Fiesta de los Muertos, in particular its important place on the mystical altar of the dead: (See infographic)
Thanks to all the symbolism, richness and tradition of Mexican culture, the Day of the Dead celebration was included in the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2008.



Dia de muertos meaning of Altar de Muertos in English
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