Around the World, How is the Day of the Dead Celebrated?

Diana Bocco

While Halloween now brings to mind trick-or-treating and fancy costumes, the celebration was originally intended not as a fun holiday, but as a day to remember those who have passed away. The Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos, is celebrated around the world on either October 31st or November 1st, although the second date has become the most popular, perhaps as a way of marking a difference with Halloween.

Day of the Dead is celebrated in Mexico because of the country's Aztec connections.
Day of the Dead is celebrated in Mexico because of the country's Aztec connections.

The Day of the Dead has its origin in pagan cultures such as the Aztecs, which explains why countries such as Mexico have maintained the practice alive, while other cultures have slowly forgotten the original meaning of the holiday. More than 300 years old, the celebration was originally a more bloody affair that included human sacrifices to the gods of death.

On the day of the Dead in Mexico, many cook special meals and take them to the cemetery where their loved ones are buried.
On the day of the Dead in Mexico, many cook special meals and take them to the cemetery where their loved ones are buried.

In Mexico, for example, the Day of the Dead is a national holiday, and a celebratory one at that. The mood is festive, and people take to the streets to celebrate the continuation of life in a new dimension, rather than mourning the absence of their loved ones. Most people celebrate by cooking special meals and delivering them to cemeteries, where they are left to be “eaten” by the dead. These offerings can be as simple as bread or as elaborated as three-course meals, and often include flowers, toys for dead children, alcoholic drinks, blankets and pillows, and hundreds of white candles spread out over the graves. Some people spend the night in the cemeteries, while others retreat to their homes for a family meal and the building of small shrines to remember their loves ones.

In other countries, customs to celebrate the Day of the Dead vary, but still keep the departed as the common ground for the celebration. In the Czech Republic, especially Prague, the day has become a mix of Halloween and formal holiday, with people donning masks and lighting candles. Most European countries where Catholicism is the dominant religion have long commemorated the day. The celebration tends to be more somber, and people choose to visit local churches or bring flowers to the cemetery, but skip celebratory parties.

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Discussion Comments


@ ValleyFiah- Baron Samedi's right hand and the leader of the lesser guedes is Papa Guede. He is the one eyed representative of the underworld. Having only one eye allows him to see in the world of the living and the world of the dead. During the day of the dead, alters to the baron and Papa are filled with offerings. It is an interesting legend, but also very real to many people.


When I was in college in Florida, I took a trip to NOLA with a few friends and we took a day of the dead tour around Halloween. It was the creepiest thing I have done, but it was completely worth the experience. New Orleans is such a mystical place anyway, with all the voodoo and hoodoo legends that I almost felt like I could believe in some of the legends. The tour was in the middle of the night, and we went to the intersection of Canal Street, Canal Boulevard, and City Park Avenue. The hairs on my neck were standing straight up the whole time. At this very intersection, there were 17 different cemeteries at one time, and it is the likely starting point for the Search for the Gates of Guinee.

The legend of the Gates of Guinee basically states that there is seven gates to the land of the dead guarded by seven separate guedes. Baron Samedi, a powerful spirit who is the gatekeeper and collector of souls, leads all of these Guedes. It is an amazing story, and anyone interested should look it up.


In China, the Day of the Dead falls on April 5th. Loved ones of the deceased would attend their tombs or urns by placing flowers or burning incenses. It is called Qing Min Jie. The last character Jie means it was once a holiday in Chian though it is no longer reserved in today. Many people still take that day off so that they could properly make it a memorial day for their loved ones.

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