Category Archives: Day of the Dead

Ondalinda To Bring an International Music Lineup to Mexico

Taking place on the stunning beaches of Costa Careyes, Mexico from October 27-30, Ondalinda is a boutique music and lifestyle festival embarking on its first journey this year with the goal of awakening the senses of those that attend. On the grounds of one of the world’s most coveted travel destinations will arise a community bound by alluring music, captivating activities alongside the waters of Mexico’s coastline, and a deep dive into the local Huichol culture during Dia de los Muertos weekend. Continue reading Ondalinda To Bring an International Music Lineup to Mexico

Artist Wayne Hilton Announces Hermosos Huesos, a Traveling Art Installation Inspired by Dia de Los Muertos

Three-year national tour to launch with help of crowdfunding campaign

LAS CRUCES, N.M., Oct. 10, 2013 /PRNewswire/ — A lifelong passion for the Mexican culture and a fascination with the Dia de Los Muertos holiday led artist-designer Wayne Hilton to create the Hermosos Huesos project.

Hermosos Huesos, which poetically translates to beautiful bones, is a thirteen piece art installation featuring intricately hand-crafted, mixed-media figures called Las Calaveras Catrinas. These figures, a nod to famed Mexican illustrator Jose Guadalupe Posada, have been created by Hilton from recycled, reclaimed and antique materials. Each Catrina stands 14 to 17 inches high and is portrayed in its own unique environment which is housed within an artistic case.

Hilton will officially launch Hermosos Huesos this Thursday, October 10th at a private event in Las Cruces, New Mexico. His first complete public installation will be unveiled just in time for this year’s Dia de Los Muertos holiday at the El Paso Museum of Art. Subsequent installations will be part of a traveling exhibit launching in 2014.

“As the project has grown, the importance of the education and outreach behind the work has become significant, almost as much as the art itself,” said Hilton. “Through this work, I want to both stimulate the observer and inspire the artist.”

Initially, the project was supported by Hilton’s own resources, but has since developed on a larger scale, garnering national press and interest from multiple museums around the nation, including the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Due to the interest and success of the project, Hilton will launch a 50-day crowdfunding campaign at Tax deductible donations will allow the project to begin its three-year nationwide tour beginning November 2, 2014—at the Mulvane Art Museum in Topeka, Kansas. The fundraising efforts will be used to underwrite a three-year museum tour, documentary film and book.

Contribution levels range from $10 to $25,000. Those who donate $35 or more will receive a special Catrina mask to participate in a social media campaign—50 States in 50 Days— where followers can post a photo wearing the mask using the #HermososHuesos hashtag for a chance to win official merchandise. Other donor incentives include: signed prints, tote bags, eco-friendly guitar picks, shirts and VIP tickets to the premier gala and showing of Hermosos Huesos.

Hermosos Huesos (“Beautiful Bones”) is a 13-piece traveling art installation created by designer Wayne Hilton. Drawing inspiration from 19th century illustrator Jose Guadalupe Posada, Hilton has designed a collection of Calveras Catrinas figures–female skeletons–often associated with Dia de Los Muertos (“Day of the Dead”). The pieces are made from recycled, reclaimed and antique materials. Please visit or for more information and upcoming events.


About Day Of The Dead

By David Simmonds

Dia de Los Muertos is a colorful religious festival in Mexico that is deeply rooted in thousands of years of tradition. This event has a long and complex history that has evolved over time, surviving many successive ancient civilizations and the Spanish Conquest. The Day of the Dead is a profoundly significant cultural event and a unique holiday characterized by special foods and confections. What at first may appear to outsiders a bizarrely macabre celebration is actually an important family ritual that recognizes the cycle of life that is the human experience. Mexican culture recognizes death as an implicit consequence of life. As in pre-Hispanic times it is seen as the seed of life, a passage to a more authentic existence. Death is embraced in a friendly way, but the Mexican relationship with death is full of subtle irony and mockery. From an early age children make, play with and eat candy skulls and skeletons. Skeleton toys are for both the living and the dead and are used to adorn the offerings for dead children. This may be one reason for the healthy acceptance of death as part of the cycle of life in Mexican culture. Despite the humor that mocks death during this time of year, there is a strong sense of respect for the people’s ancestors.

This is particularly so in rural areas with indigenous peoples, where preparations and anticipation of this event are a major preoccupation much of the year. The festival is essentially a private family feast. Although it has a very colorful and festive public aspect at the community level, the core of the celebration takes place from October 31 to November 2, with the extended family. November first is All Saints Day when little dead children are honored, and November second is All Souls Day commemorating the souls of all the faithfully departed. The manner of celebration varies by region, as some families wait in their homes for the arrival of the spirits while others spend the night picnicking in the cemetery (or pantheon) by candlelight.

Whether at home or in the cemetery, one of the most important aspects of the celebration is that of the family “offering” or offrendaOffrendas may take place in family homes, in the cemetery, or both. Offrendas are usually decorated with flowers (usually cempazuchiles, a type of marigold), palm leaves, fruits, or other regional ornaments such as tin or paper skeletons. Also present are usually photographs of departed loved ones, figures of saints, favorite foods, personal items, fresh baked bread, sugar skulls or toy skeletons. Copol incense burns to attract dead loved ones and clear the air of any bad spirits that might be present.

The family gathers around the offrenda and shares memories of the departed, awaiting their arrival. Their souls are not usually seen, but their presence is sensed. They do not eat the foods left for them, but rather consume its essence, leaving behind positive energy. When family and friends eat the food, it is thought this positive energy is then absorbed and sustains them throughout the year.

Disclosure:  I am being compensated for my work in creating and managing content as a Contributor for the México Today Program.  All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared here are completely my own. Mexico Today is a joint public and private sector initiative designed to help promote Mexico as a global business partner and an unrivaled tourist destination.



Cancun, Quintana Roo, October 25th, 2010 – The Caribbean paradise of Cancun attracts tourists year-round with its sunshine and breathtaking turquoise waters. But during November, the destination lights up with vibrant colors, music and mysticism to celebrate the traditional Day of the Dead, “Día de Muertos”, or as it is known within the Mayan tradition, “Hanal Pixán”.

While the popular holiday of Halloween is celebrated on October 31st, with costume parties and haunted houses, Mexico celebrates the Day of the Dead on November 1st and the 2nd. The tradition suggests the belief that between October 31st and the day of the celebration, the souls of the dearly departed roam the earth to enjoy the pleasures they had in their earthly life. The holiday is meant to honor those who have passed, and celebrate their life.

As a result of the mixing of cultures and their Catholic and Mayan antecedents, the days of the dead are a time of great family togetherness in which the whole family take part and everyone is involved.

Throughout the state of Quintana Roo, “Hanal Pixan” -as the Day of the Dead is known within the Mayan tradition- is one of the most significant traditions, due to all the preparations involved: the building of beautiful altars, adorned with palm crosses, candles, drinks, pictures and the “deceased’s”  favorite food comes to life. During “Hanal Pixan”, people pray and sing, sweep the yards and paint the walls to receive the dead with full honors.

Gastronomically, “Hanal Pixan” is a celebration that bursts with flavor. Large portions of the best dishes are prepared, with the idea that the souls enjoy earthly pleasures such as food. Proof of this is the Mucbipollo, from the Mayan “Pib” which means “buried” and is a tamale or corn cake stuffed with chicken, sauce, broth and spices, cooked in a hole in the ground and covered with banana leaves. All the food is arranged on the altars for the souls to have their feast. The belief dictates that the offered food looses its flavor and nutrients by the next day.

All these customs and traditions can be experienced in Cancun throughout the 5th Festival of Life and Death Tradition, created by Xcaret Park. This Year, the state of Chiapas will be added to the event as a special guest, offering a display of their artwork, music and crafts used to celebrate this holiday.

The 33 communities participating in the event, share with tourists their traditions and beliefs from a first hand experience through theatrical performances, concerts, gatherings, games and more than 200 activities in 13 different forums. The 685 artists performing have gathered a wealth of stories, tales and legends under the theme “200 years of life and death” as part of the bicentennial year of Mexico’s independence.

Day of the dead was declared in 2003 as a World’s Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO, due to the importance it has on Mexican indigenous communities’ everyday lives regarding the different dimensions and perceptions of death.

The Cancun Convention and Visitors Bureau invites visitors to take part in the tradition that surrounds “Hanal Pixan” “Feast of Souls”, from the number one tourist destination in Mexico.


Day of Dead

MEXICO CITY, October 3, 2010 – Celebrated on October 31 (Young Souls Day), November 1 (All Saints Day) and November 2 (All Souls Day), Day of the Dead is one of Mexico’s most important holidays paying homage to the dearly departed. With each state paying homage to deceased loved ones in slightly different but equally colorful ways, travelers can witness incredible displays of tradition and culture all over Mexico during these three days.

The Day of the Dead celebration shares a connection to the popular Halloween holiday celebrated in the United States on Oct. 31. The word Halloween is first attested in the 16th century and represents a Scottish variant of the fuller All-Hallows-Even (evening), meaning the night before All Hallows Day (also known as All Saints Day), which is celebrated on Nov. 1, as per the Catholic calendar. In the past, the Spanish church would obligate the indigenous cultures in Mexico to celebrate All Saints Day on Nov. 1, but they in turn celebrated the dead.

The origin of Day of the Dead can be traced to pre-Hispanic times and stemming from indigenous beliefs shared by the Aztecs, Mayans, Purepecha, Nahua, Totonac and Otomi. It is believed that during the Day of the Dead the souls of the departed return to visit living relatives. These ancient cultures all celebrated the return of these relatives with festivals and grand fanfare. Today, the Day of the Dead tradition is stronger than ever, with families gathering to honor their ancestors through elaborate ofrendas (altars). Ofrendas are typically decorated with cempasuchil (marigolds), candles, photographs of the departed, and the loved one’s favorite foods and beverages, as well as with many other small trinkets such as small coffins with pop-up skeletons. These altars range in size and are placed in both homes and at gravesites.

Along with ofrendas, calaveras (skulls) also form an important part of Day of the Dead celebrations. Originally, skulls and skeletons were represented in the art of pre-Hispanic Mexico, particularly used by the Aztec civilization, which ruled much of Mexico at the time of the Spanish conquest. The skull is also an important aspect of the altar, where they are often decorated with paper foil for eyes and colored icing for hair. Names can be added to the skull, and Mexican children often exchange named skulls with their friends. Sweets and candy skulls are traditionally intended for angelitos (little angels) – the young souls of departed children, who return to earth in the late afternoon of October 31.

Calaveras went mainstream in the 19th century when Mexican artist Jose Guadalupe Posada (1851 – 1913) placed them in his satirical artwork that commented on the corruption and social inequities of his time. In his more than 900 drawings, politicians and legendary figures inhabited a world of skeletons and skulls. One of Posada’s most famous drawings is La Catrina, which pokes fun at the elegantly dressed French ladies of his era.

A Day of the Dead “must have” is pan de muertos (bread of the dead), made with anise, sugar, butter, eggs, flour, yeast and orange peel, and decorated with strips of dough simulating bones. It is tradition for families to come together and share this bread in remembrance of their deceased loved one. Another traditional dish made during these days is the tasty calabaza en tacha (candied pumpkin), prepared with cinnamon and brown sugar.

While the entire nation celebrates Day of the Dead, some of the “liveliest” displays are in Janitzo, Michoacan; Oaxaca City, Oaxaca; and the village of Mizquic on the outskirts of Mexico City. Other noteworthy festivals are held in Merida, Yucatan; Huejutla, Hidalgo; Chiapa de Corzo, Chiapas; and Jesus Maria, Nayarit.

Oaxaca City, Oaxaca

For one of Mexico’s most colorful and magical displays of Day of the Dead, one can do no better than visiting Oaxaca City. Local markets burst with preparatory activities while playful skeleton imagery adorns storefronts and home windows.

The festival formally begins on Oct. 31, where families honor their ancestors or deceased loved ones by creating elaborate in-house altars. Over the years, the altars have evolved into objects of art, making this celebration a true exhibition. Typically, homes are open to those interested in paying homage to their dead. Throughout the three days, the city arranges event at the local San Miguel Cemetery. Events include exhibitions, altar competitions, music and prayers for the dead.

Another mainstay during the festivities is the Oaxacan mole negro (black mole), a rich sauce consisting of more than 20 different spices and considered the “king of moles” in the region. Typically served in tamales, the savory paste is enjoyed by both the living and the dead. For more information, please visit or

Janitzio, Michoacan State

In the heart of southern Michoacan State is Lake Patzcuaro, home to the island of Janitzio, which is only accessible by boat. The island of nearly 1,500 inhabitants is renowned for its impressive and colorful Day of the Dead celebrations.

Pre-preparations abound as many families even grow their own cempasuchils, believing that doing so is more appropriate for their offerings. The city squares fill with stands that offer all types of colorful figures, the most popular made of sugar.

At night, boats are decorated with candles and flowers, loaded with local villagers and visitors who are taken to the island’s cemetery. There, they spend the night, summoning back the dead in celebration as the sounds of bells ringing, people chanting and the smell of incense fills the air. One the sun sets, the dancing begins. The Danza de los Viejitos (Dance of the Old Men), native to Michoacan State and believed to date back to pre-Hispanic times, is performed as a ritual honoring the sun. For more information, please visit

Mixquic, Mexico City

Only 25 miles southeast of Mexico City is the village of Mixquic, a magnet for visitors and locals during day of the dead. The area takes on a busy and festive air in the final days of October as merchants set up street stands to hawk their wares for the Day of the Dead. In the cemetery, all family burial plots are elaborately embellished with an array of earthly delights in the hope of luring departed spirits.

Similar to the Halloween tradition in the United States, on the night of Oct. 31, children go from house to house asking for goodies. Most homes have large, intricate altars for Day of the Dead. Children kneel at the altar and recite prayers before being offered food gifts. Then, they move on to the next home repeating the same ritual. To light their way, children carry carved green and white chilacayote (squash), which look incredibly similar to jack-o-lanterns.

As darkness falls upon Mixquic, the glow of thousands of votive candles illuminates the way for the dead. At midnight they are called home with the mournful tolling of bells. Then, each soul is lovingly remembered with recitations of the Rosary. The food-laden street fair roars outside the church graveyard, villagers descend upon the cemetery with food, drink, candles and cempasuchil. For more information, please visit or

Merida, Yucatan

Residents of the Yucatan Peninsula call their Day of the Dead festival, Hanal Pixan, a feast for all souls, and capital city Merida is at the heart of this celebration. Everything starts at city cemeteries where families come together to clean and decorate loved one’s graves in preparation for their visit. The first souls to find their way home are the children, Pixanitos, who return Oct. 31. The adults, Pixanes, soon follow on Nov. 1 and 2.

The celebrations include the deceased’s favorite foods and candies, which are placed on the tables with long white cloths. Other common offerings to the departed are ceramics, images of saints, flowers, candles and cigarettes. Groups of families unite to prepare pibipollo, a seasoned chicken tamale wrapped in plantain leaves and cooked underground in a pit barbeque. For more information, please visit or

Huasteca Potosina, San Luis Potosi

Area stores stock early with candles, paper flowers, fireworks, tobacco, bread, candy, chocolate and coffee to meet the demand of residents that begin building the cempasuchil arches that frame their alters on Oct. 30. These alters, which represent the way in and out of the underworld, are lit from above with candles and incense, and feature flower petal carpets to help guide the spirits back to the world of the living.

Those first offerings are made for the departed children who are given chocolates, yucca, sheets made with pumpkin seeds, pork and chicken cuatzam (tamales). Children also receive corn and bean seeds to promote fertility, salt for those who have not been baptized and water for those who come back tired.

All Saints’ Day is celebrated by the lighting of incense and traditional dances that last the entire night. On Nov. 2, families go to the cemetery to clean and decorate their loved one’s graves. It is believed that the spirits enter the land of the living at this time and leave on the last day of the month, when families return to the cemetery and redecorate the new homes of their loved ones. For more information, please visit

Day of the Dead in Vancouver

By John Mitchell

This year Vancouverites didn’t have to travel all the way to Mexico to celebrate the Day of the Dead. On Thursday, October 29th, the Mexico Tourism Board hosted a Day of the Dead fiesta at the Roundhouse located in the historical Yaletown district of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The MTB is also sponsoring a Mexican Altars Competition that will run at the Roundhouse until November 2nd.

I dropped by the Roundhouse last night to enjoy the festivities, which included live music, dancing, plus the serving of traditional pan de muerto (bread of the dead) and hot chocolate. I also took photos of some of the Day of the Dead altars that have been entered in the contest, so that you can be the judge.

Please click on images in the slide-show below to see purchasing and licensing information.

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Day of the Dead altars – Images by John Mitchell