Easily one of the most iconic and well-known Mexican traditions is the Día de Muertos or Day of the dead, a celebration and commemoration of the lives of those who have already departed, as well as the end of one cycle and the beginning of the next.
This meaningful and colorful tradition takes place during the first 2 nights of November and is full of symbolisms that date back from the pre-Hispanic rituals the multiple indigenous groups celebrated before the conquest.
In general, the celebrations include different foods, lots of marigolds and other flowers, candles, incense, and altars both in churches and in households, as well as multiple processions towards local graveyards. But being that Mexico is an extense country it’s only to be expected that each region has its own ways to carry on the traditions as well as different dishes that come with it.
Here are 5 different examples of how Día de Muertos is celebrated in different regions of Mexico
Pátzcuaro Lake, Michoacán
Located a 4-hour drive northwest from the country’s capital, lies this mysterious town with a gorgeous lake known as Patzcuaro and its famous Janitzio Island.
Legend has it that when the souls leave the body, they turn into Monarch butterflies that fly over an enchanted lake towards Janitzio island to rest.
So, every year, the ancient tale turned into a present-day tradition is re-enacted by the members of local communities to remember and celebrate the passing spirits of our loved ones.
Fishermen bring out their boats during nighttime, filled with lit candles and incense, and spread the fishing nets to mimic the wings of the monarch butterflies, as they traverse their way onto the Janitzio Island, making it a beautiful spectacle of reflections and dim lights completely unique.
Processions towards local cemeteries are also essential, as people head over to the tombs bringing flowers, candles and local dishes such as a special kind of small tamal called Corunda, made with ashes, and wrapped with the leaves from the actual corn stem in a triangular shape and are served with a mild tomato-based salsa.
There are many ways to honor this special date in Mexico City, monumental altars in open areas such as the university and the main square in the city center, multiple visits to different cemeteries and even floating celebrations on the colorful boats through the beautiful canals of the Xochimilco areas.
But city dwellers would mostly celebrate from their own homes, setting up altars with the traditional elements such as flowers, candles, a portrait of the departed loved ones, papel picado, fruits like sugar cane, Mexican crabapple, limes and most importantly the most traditional and widely known pan de muerto.
This classic round shaped, buttery bun, spiced with orange blossom water and decorated with a cross and sugar becomes a highly coveted pastry and can be found extensively in most bakeries around the city which makes people put their best efforts into trying as many versions as they can for the season.
The newest addition to the festivities, the monumental Catrinas parade, in which thousands of visitors paint their faces and dress up as one of the most recognizable symbols of the Día de Muertos and comes in the form of an elegant skeleton mocking the higher classes of the people of the 30’s and who were said to wear big dresses and a huge hat covered mostly in feathers.
One of the most diverse states of the country rich in culture, foods, traditions and ingredients is also known for the many different ways they celebrate this holiday
Colorful sand murals on the big plazas’ floors, in which the sands represent the souls of the departed, as well as colorful graveyard celebrations and the multiple street festivals known as calendas: small walking parades with different elements like a traditional band, big human shaped puppets, multiple dancers and even fireworks.
For this season, calendas change their name into muerteadas in which participants dress up as different characters representing life & death, the devil, and the elders among others.
Here in Oaxaca, also known as the land of the 7 kinds of moles, they can all be found throughout the multiple towns and altars, whether they are offered to the spirits or the living alike.
San Andrés Míxquic
This community located in the farthest southeast part of the city has a completely different feel and vibe from the rest of the territory, and it’s mostly known for its Día de Muertos commemorations.
Every year thousands of visitors both national and international visit the area to participate in the multiple celebrations that include a special open market, altar contests and the opening of the homes of those newly deceased to offer foods and drinks to the neighbors and passersby.
Families attend the cemeteries bringing their loved ones their favorite foods, flowers, incense, tons of flowers and even music to the tombs. And then walk around town exploring different altars and food vendors in the area selling fruits, mole and various kinds of tamales wrapped in either corn husk or banana leaves, among other delicacies.
But the main event would be the Alumbrada (The Lit Up), which takes place on November 2nd at 4 o’clock, right when the church gives a signal by ringing the tower bells. And it consists of flooding the main cemetery with marigolds, flowers, incense and most importantly candles, that are lit simultaneously which turns into an absolute feast for the eyes and all other senses.
Toluca, Estado de México
Most likely the least touristic place of all the list. The capital of the Estado de México is mostly known for being the 5th most populated city in the country and for being home of the green chorizo, a delicacy made of pork meat and herbs found mainly in this region.
Aside from the typical altars at home and the ceremonial visit to the cemeteries, this town celebrates the Holidays by hosting the annual Alfeñique festival.
This sugary confection is derived from a candy from Islamic Spain called “Al-Fanid”, which was warm and wet and used to treat coughs and was traditionally made with sugar, water, honey and almond oil.
Once in Mexican territory, these sweet figurines have evolved and now are multicolored and modeled in different shapes such as the typical sugar skulls, coffins, crowns, chickens, deers, bottles and so many more. Entire families are dedicated to this craft that’s passed down from generation to generation.
Traditionally alfeñiques are placed at the ofrendas for the spirits to delight with their shapes and indulgent favors.