Originating as an ancient Aztec custom, the Day of the Dead holiday (or Dia de los Muertos) is revered throughout Central America as something of a heady mix between carnival and day of remembrance. Somehow surviving Spanish colonialism, Catholicism, and the modern industrialized era, the Day of the Dead celebration is not just a passing holiday – it’s a deep step into Mesoamerican history – and it’s a lively step at that.
A holiday filled with color – look for marigold flowers, fabulous costumes, decorative parades, dancing, and (of course) food - nowhere else on earth is this joyfully macabre holiday celebrated with such verve and splendor than as in Mexico. The ancient Aztecs viewed death as a continuation of life, and the spirits of lost loved ones are believed to have an easier time communing with the living if aided by ofrendas (offerings). The crowds take to the streets and the cemeteries to lay food, dolls, and other such stuffs at the memorial grounds of past loved ones, and all this makes for a rich cultural experience like no other.
A revered yet festive holiday, the Day of the Dead festival is a big event in Mexico. Though celebrated on the first and second days of November, preparations start weeks in advance to assure that this year’s event is better than the last, and different regions are known for their various celebratory efforts.
One hour out from Mexico City is one such noted celebration: San Andres Mixquic is popular for its particularly vibrant display of marigold flowers, skeletal dolls, and colorful masks. Experience the true Day of the Dead in Mixquic, if you can. Come November 1 you’ll find open doors and candlelit alters laid upon the houses of those who have lost loved ones and are celebrating the event. Walk the streets to get a sense of the color and feel of the time, while smelling all the traditional recipes that will be used as offerings to entice loved ones to spend a little time back with those they left behind.
On November 2 at 4 p.m. the Church of St. Andrew bell will toll and those participating will promenade through the streets to the cemeteries to lay their candles and offerings on the graves of those they’ve lost. Truly a magnificent time filled with touching moments, if you can afford to see Mizquic during Day of the Dead, you shouldn’t miss it.