While most of the world rounds out the end of October with ghoulish Halloween traditions and cheeky costumes meant to scare and frighten (with a whole lot of candy involved), Mexico is gearing up for one of their most treasured and beloved traditions. The Day of the Dead or Dia de los Muertos may at first glance seem just as spooky as Halloween with the emphasis on the dead, skulls, and makeup, but at its core it’s about honouring and remembering those who have passed. Altars are set up to remember what the loved on favoured in their lives, gorgeous flowers are everywhere, parades happen, delicious food is eaten, all in a way to preserve those lives lost, and to always remember them.
Visiting Mexico City during the Day of the Dead celebrations (the week leading up to the actual days of November 1st and 2nd) feels like you are being welcomed into a family’s home and learning about their loved ones. It feels intimate, even with millions of people, when you see alters with photos of family and friends, decorated with their favourite flowers, foods, drinks, toys — an intimate look into someone’s life, each one distinctly different. Ask anyone about the altar and the people remembered, and they’ll show you pride, love and even a few tears as they talk about their loved ones. It’s a special time to visit Mexico… it’s welcoming, it’s a party, it’s festive and something that is incredible to experience.
Take in the parade
Believe it or not, the Day of the Dead Parade wasn’t actually a thing until a James Bond movie came along. The movie Spectre opening scene showed off the Day of the Day celebrations so well that it inspired Mexico City to start this parade (the first one happened in 2016). Streets are lined with hundreds of thousands of people watching floats, marching bands, skeletons and more come down the street (all done up in traditional makeup, masks and clothes). Think of a massive party happening on the street, because that’s what the parade is. If you want a bird’s eye view and to avoid the crowds, pop up to the St. Regis Hotel’s restaurant for an incredible view while you sip bubbly or mezcal.
Get in the spirit
One of the most famous things about the Day of the Dead is the makeup people wear to honour the dead. It can look deathly and beautiful at the same time and it’s totally acceptable for you to get your makeup done as well to take part in the festivities. You’ll realize the time and care that goes into getting ready for the parade.
Know the culture
Aside from the parade and the actual Day of the Dead, there are so many ways to get in touch with the traditions and culture that surrounds the day. So much of it is rooted in ancient beliefs and traditions that you can witness in many places, from museums like the Museo Frida Khalo, to the pyramids at Teotihuacan. Spend days wandering the neighbourhood streets and strolling through museums and restaurants to get the real feel.
Make Pan de Muerto
This is possibly the most delicious part of the Day of the Dead celebrations. Subtly sweet bread rolls coated in sugar are the treat that has been passed down for centuries, and loved by both the dead and alive. One reason why it is such a special addition, and really only available once a year, is because of just how labour intensive it is. We’re talking 16 + hour of kneading alone. But the result is the softest bread that’s not too sweet, fluffy and truly melts in your mouth. Get the low-down on how to make the bread (and other yummy Mexican food) by touring around the city’s markets and doing a cooking class with Casa Jacaranda.