5 Interesting Facts About Day of the Dead

Ana Campos, Principal Librarian, Central Library Services,
photo of a dia de muertos altar
Day of the Dead is a Mexican celebration with pre-colonial origins

Day of the Dead is a Mexican celebration with pre-colonial origins. This celebration today is a mixture of indigenous and Christian traditions. Before colonization, the Day of the Dead was usually celebrated in late summer. With the introduction of Christianity, this celebration was moved to coincide with the celebration of All Soul’s Day that is celebrated on November 2.

Here are five interesting facts about this tradition.

  1. The Day of the Dead is not the same as Halloween. Halloween is an Anglo-Saxon tradition with origins that come from Ireland. In Ireland, formerly, they celebrated the Samhain (end of summer), where it was believed that the spirits of the dead came out.

  2. On November 1st, the Day of the Little Angels is celebrated. This is the day children who have died are believed to visit their loved ones. On November 2nd, Day of the Dead is celebrated.

  3. Altars or offerings are created in honor of the loved ones who have departed. It is a way to honor, receive, and remember loved ones who are no longer on this earth.

  4. La Calavera Catrina or "La Calavera Garbancera" that today is associated with the Day of the Dead was created by the Mexican cartoonist José Guadalupe Posada between 1910-1913. La Catrina is a satirical representation of rich indigenous people who believed they were better than poor indigenous people. The word "Garbancera" was a nickname for people who denied their indigenous origins and imitated European styles.

  5. Flowers, skulls, and butterflies have symbolism. The Aztecs believed that the marigold flower had spiritual properties that help guide the souls of the deceased. The word cempasúchil comes from the Nahuatl “cempoal,'' twenty, and “xóchitl,” flower. This flower is also known as the flower of the dead. Skulls represent the cycle of life. The arrival of the monarch butterflies or Quetzalpapálotl as the Aztecs called them to Mexico in November coincides with the Day of the Dead, and it was believed that these butterflies kept the souls of the dead.

Further Reading

Skulls to the Living, Bread to the Dead
Brandes, Stanley H.

The Day of the Dead: A Celebration of Family and Life

Day of the Dead Crafts: More Than 24 Projects that Celebrate Día de los Muertos
Arquette, Kerry

The Story Behind Day Of The Dead

La Ofrenda: The Days of the Dead

Celebrate el Día de Muertos