This is How We Celebrated Our First Day of the Dead

Mexico has many lovely holidays. Of course, I’ve heard of the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos). In fact, friends of mine used to host a Day of the Dead party, which was my first foray into trying to gain an understanding. But I didn’t really understand. Now that I’m in Mexico, I will work towards understanding as well as I can. I came to Mexico to fully immerse in a different culture. Being an outsider, I can never be perfect. Even so, I am saying yes to invitations and trying to understand the important cultural and religious holidays. And eat more amazing food.

We have been welcomed into the traditions here, both in school and in peoples’ homes.

A Bit About The Day of the Dead (Dia de Los Muertos)

Okay, now that I’ve posted the disclaimer that I’m still learning and know very little about the holiday, here are the things I do know. First, the wikipedia entry on the Day of the Dead, which states that the “significance [is] prayer and remembrance of friends and family members who have died [and the celebrations include the] creation of altars to remember the dead, traditional day of the dead’s food.” Second, the Day of the Dead begins on October 31 and ends on November 2nd. October 31 is to honor the spirits of dead children and invite the spirits to visit, November 1 is for the visit of the adult spirits, and November 2 is when families will visit the graves of their family members. Marigolds are prominently used in the decorations. An alter with seven levels is created to honor the dead (this per my child’s teacher).

The school my children attend did an alter decorated with sugar skulls, skeletons, the bread of the dead, and flowers. Each child was sent home with a paper skeleton to cut out and decorate. Some were incredible (actually, most!) In school, my children also decorated skulls in their own design. The result was lovely.


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a child's arm, with a temporary tattoo on it that looks like a pencil was stabbed into the arm. in the backgound is the child's other hand wearing a purple spider ring.

Scary temporary tattoos from the party. My children were delighted to pretend they’d be stabbed with a pencil.

A (back) Story

A few weeks ago, we went to Las Sietes Luminarias with friends of our friend (I will call them M & H for privacy’s sake). After visiting the crater La Alberca, they invited us to a short visit with H’s mother. This short visit was at least 2 lovely hours of spending time with his family – a normal weekend for them and what we would consider a party. We also got to eat homemade (red) pozole, my husband’s favorite soup. It was delicious!

My children played with their children (even with the language barrier, they had a lot of fun and ate a lot of spicy mango candy) while we walked in the centro with M & H. We saw the church where they were married and stopped and bought homemade ice cream a woman was selling from her home. I had vanilla and it was slightly different than vanilla tastes in commercially made ice creams, with a different consistency (icy more than creamy). I could eat it all the time; it was delicious. I’m dreaming about it and I must have it again!

Another Story

In return, I invited M and her family to my neighborhood for trick or treating. Our neighborhood is fairly small, by some standards, but definitely a neat place to trick or treat. There were vendors selling food in our neighborhood, too. M invited us to attend her neighborhood’s trick or treating the following week. I said yes. This is significant, because I knew I’d be bringing the children by myself and that I would be driving home in the dark. It made me a little nervous, but I did it and everything was wonderful. Her neighborhood is much bigger than mine and the neighbors gathered together to start the journey of going house to house.

a spooky sign covered with cobwebs that says "Dia de Muertos." In front sit two white, lit candles. This from our first Day of the Dead party.

“Dia de Muertos”

and finally, the Day of the Dead Party

Finally, we get to the Day of the Dead. M invited us to her family’s party. My husband was out of town and I knew I’d be driving all over the centro (downtown) by myself at night… again, it’s daunting. I was really worried about getting lost.

Without touching too much on this subject, there are some places, even entire towns, that are recommended by our company as areas to avoid due to higher than normal problems with robberies and other crime. While I am in no danger (or very little) in the areas I frequent and in my friends’ homes, I do not wish to stumble into a no-go area by mistake. Especially with my children in the car with me. It isn’t like the wild west or a movie where all hell breaks loose when the sun goes down, but caution must be exercised by all (meaning both men and women).

Say Yes

I said yes – I’m so glad that I didn’t let fear or anxiety get the best of me! And attending a Day of the Dead party was a wonderful experience. The alter was beautiful. I did not take any pictures at the party or of the alter because I felt it would be disrespectful to do so. This year’s alter honored M’s cousin’s father. Marigolds were everywhere and the scent of flowers was wonderful. I gathered from the alter that the deceased loved music, especially the piano, and also baseball. One daughter spoke about her father briefly. She then handed the microphone over to someone who told traditional stories. While they were performed in Spanish, the man was an adept performer and had me wishing I understood more. He had incredible comedic timing.

"Dead bread" in a plastic package with a colorful Catrina drawing as the label.

There was a costume contest, which my friend and her daughter entered. I’m still unsure what they were supposed to be and I will ask her to explain it to me in the future. They didn’t win the prize, but it was a lot of fun anyway.

There is so much more

Sadly, I ate some gluten and got sick the following morning. It’s my own fault because I wasn’t being careful with my food choices. But I did get to try some amazing food, at least. I wouldn’t choose to do it on purpose, of course.

I’m glad I didn’t let fear convince me to stay home. I would’ve missed out on a really neat experience. It was the type of thing in which I’d really hoped to be included.

What cool things have you experienced somewhat unexpectedly? Have you ever said no and then regretted your decision?

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