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Mexican culture: Traditions on the Day of the Dead

In México, this holiday is taken very seriously and celebrated with utmost dedication. If you want to immerse yourself in the Mexican culture. This magical and millenary tradition makes this, the best time of the year to pay us a visit.

This tradition of the Mexican culture has its roots in the pre-columbian epoch, and then suffered a transformation of sorts as a result of the Spanish conquest. Nowadays, we make an “altar” to our beloved, departed ones, which consists in setting certain elements in a table, each with a specific meaning and symbology.

The “Altar” in the Mexican Culture


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In general, it has to include the four primal elements: Earth, Fire, Water and Wind.

Earth is represented by the food given to the dead, so that when they visit us they may satiate their hunger after their long journey. This food preferably has to be the favorite dishes that our relatives enjoyed.

Through candles, set in each cardinal point, Fire is symbolised, so that souls may be guided back and forth during their visit.

After their hunger has been satiated, Water is offered to quench our relatives’ thirst. A coconut shell (called jícaras) is often used to deposit the water.

Finally Wind, it’s represented by placing Copal incense, which smoke symbolizes the step from life to death. Its smoke also is believed to form a path for the souls.

Other elements included are the Cempasúchil (marigold) flowers, pictures of the departed along with some mementos, such as tools, toys, books, etc.

Although this is the standard celebration, there are certain states which are characterized for doing some other things.


Andrés Mixquic, Mexico City


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In this ancient community located inside Mexico city, locals visit the cemetery in order to decorate the graves of their relatives with cempasúchil, sugar skulls and some traditional dishes to honour their dead. Music is played, contests are celebrated and people spend a great time remembering their loved ones.


Pomuch, Campeche


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Here you will find a unique tradition that may be considered weird, but once you think about it, it’s beautiful.

People in Pomuch have been continuing this tradition that not even the elders know how it started, but it is part of the collective consciousness. Every year, during the Day of the Dead, the remains are unearthed by the denizens and then, ever so lovingly and carefully, cleaned. Dust is removed with brushes and the bones are even given a bath if they have signs of mold, all while their relatives chat with them about their plans, recent experiences, etc.

Read more: How learning Spanish in Mexico changed the way I see the world

Merida, Yucatan


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In here, the Day of the Dead is called Hanal Pixan. This celebration is not very different from the rest of the country, but its subtle differences are what make it so splendid. One of the main traits is the preparation of Mukbil pollo, or Pib, which is a kind of tamale prepared with meat and espelón (a kind of bean) and is cooked beneath the earth.

Read more: Foods you can’t miss when you visit Mexico

Another difference lays in the “altar” and its elements, such as salt and water, which represent the beginning and ending of Life, a mantle that represents the heavens (mayan people believed in 13 higher planes) and the belief that food has a soul of sorts which is consumed by the souls of our loved ones. This soul is what gives food the vitalizing function and what is left is nothing more than a  husk.

There you have it! Don’t miss the opportunity to visit this beautiful country in this magical time of the year. As you learn Spanish, you’ll be learning about Mexican culture. This will give you a different and wider insight that will help you understand the language better.

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