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Dia de Los Muertos

Unlike the commercialized Halloween holiday in other parts of the world, in Mexico the original meaning comes from the Catholic All Saints’ Day, and represents a mixture of pre-Hispanic customs and beliefs containing both European and indigenous elements. November 1 and 2 mark this annual celebration in remembering deceased family members. November 1 is often referred to as Dia de los Angelitos or Holy Innocents’ Day for children who have died.  November 2 is Dia de los Muertos for adults who have died.

Colorful alter, Dia de Los Muertos, Puerto Vallarta Walking Tours!

This is also an important social as well as religious ritual for Vallarta with a parade and all-night candlelight vigils at the graves of the family members at local cemeteries. The whole occasion is festive, and everyone talks of the dead as if they were still alive. During this time, people remember, re-live, and enjoy rather than fear evil or malevolent spirits.  Some Mexican families spend hours in the cemetery where they clean the grave, plant flowers, have a picnic and hire musicians to sing a favorite song of the deceased.  From the indigenous side comes the use of the “cempasuchil” the large yellow/orange marigold used to adorn Mexican graves.  It is believed that the candle light, as well as the scents of the marigold flowers and the copal incense, help the returning souls find their way back.

Alters dedicated to the memory of a departed loved one are elaborate creations which take hours to construct and contain many favorite food items of the deceased including something from the four elements water, earth, fire and wind; photos, poems, letters, trinkets, and other memorabilia specific to the person to whom the alter is dedicated.  Walk the streets of Vallarta to see many of these beautiful offerings outside homes, government buildings, hotels and stores.


The traditional food of the day, pan de muerto, a sweet yolk bread sprinkled with sugar, is of European origin.  It is said to be good luck to be the one who bites into the plastic toy skeleton hidden by the baker in each loaf. The “calavera” (skull) is a humorously morbid poem which is addressed to a friend or public figure. This genre of poetry has its origin in Cervantes’ Don Quixote, in early 17th century Spain. Candy in the shape of small sugar skulls are meant to be consumed signifying eating one’s death. Catrina dolls are artistic creations of skeletons dressed in the clothes symbolizing the person who has died.


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