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Death. How do they do it in Mexico?

By Susanne Duijvestein, sustainable funeral director at Bijafscheid

image Victor Chavez

Every year on November 1st and 2d, just about all of Mexico gathers at the cemetery to commemorate the dead: Dia de los Muertos.

Dia de los Muertos

It is an important festival. The ancient Christian belief says that souls return to earth on these two days. Therefore, they must be guided in all possible ways to make contact with them. The most colorful altars are made with flowers, photos and candles, graves are cleaned and decorated and all kinds of offerings are prepared, such as food and drink. To induce the dead through their favorite goods, to visit the them and the earth on this day.

Skulls (calaveras) are important symbols that can be found everywhere: in face paint, candles, drawings and giant dolls. It is also full of beautiful orange marigolds.

It produces the most beautiful images, especially at night.


Dia de los Muertos has its origins in the traditions of the ancient Mesoamerican peoples. It was customary for the Aztecs, Maya and Purépecha to worship the ancestors and thus the dead. Dia de los Muertos is celebrated in multiple Latin American countries.

In Europe, November 1st and 2d are known as All Saints or All Souls. In many countries, traditions surrounding these two days have disappeared into the background with the secularization. However it has been rediscovered by commerce a few years ago. But many shop window have been decorated on Halloween with symbols such as skulls and pumpkins, but in recent years more and more colorful Mexican attributes have also appeared. The funeral industry also uses All Saints and All Souls' Day as an opportunity for surviving relatives to commemorate their deceased loved one. Many cemeteries are open in the evenings, and there are lectures and rituals.

But back to Mexico.

In Mexico City (Xochimilco) a big parade takes place on Dia de los Muertos. Mostly known from the opening scene of the James Bond movie Specter.


A more recent film about Dia de los Muertos is the Disney production Coco, about a Mexican boy who, in following his desire to become a musician, gets to know his reviled ancestor. The film beautifully portrays the tradition.

The belief from Dia de los Muertos is that on the first day of the festival, November 1st, the souls of deceased children come back to earth: the angelitos. Then November 2 is the day of the adults, the deceased ancestors.

It must be a cheerful, festive and colorful reunion. Sometimes short poems are written that make fun of epitaphs. The food and drink, the photos, works of art and the smell of the flowers should guide the souls the right way to relatives.

And they are waiting in the cemetery ...

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