This is one of those holidays that at first glance you think is kind of creepy, at second glance you might nod in understanding but then by the third glance you realize it sounds like a pretty good time. Yes, it’s a holiday about death and yes, it can be quite enjoyable and festive. Don’t forget, when planning a trip to Mexico on, that it’s also filled with beautiful beaches and delicious food.

Dating back thousands of years to Aztec culture, Day of the Dead in modern Mexico is actually a two day affair taking place on November 1st and 2nd and relates to all things deceased. Before you start wondering why this is unique to Mexico, it is not – many cultures all over the world have similar festivals and observances for their deceased, from O-bon in Japan to Catholic European nations and everywhere in between. Basically, if you’re not celebrating the dead, you’re the weird one!

Mexican tradition sees this as a fairly significant holiday, one where family assembles to remember the deceased and spend time together. Parties are held, both raucous and sombre, and each of the two days has their own significance. November 1st is known as the Day of the Innocents or Day of the Little Angels, typically reserved for children who have passed away to be remembered. November 2nd is the true Day of the Dead, for adults who have passed on.

Dinners are served with some of the food going as an offering to the deceased, often with a place reserved at the table for them or on a separate table altogether. It is not unusual to turn a portion of the house into a shrine of remembrance and to have many of that person’s favourite things present, from food to beverages.

An important part of the festivities are to go to the graveyard to be with the deceased. It is here that many people bring trinkets and leave them by the gravesite, containers of favourite treats, toys for the children or bottles of tequila for the adults. Don’t be surprised if many people are having picnics in the graveyards as well!

Something to keep in mind about Day of the Dead celebrations is that they are not universal and each town or area has different traditions. In some areas people write poems and recite them, decorate the tombs, dance and wear masks and even open their doors to outsiders to come in and honour the recently departed.

The key when it comes to Day of the Dead is to respect the deceased and honour them through your living. Have fun and be respectful of those around you as some may be grieving a lost loved one and while the decorations or traditions may seem odd to you, they may have special significance for them. Like with all travel, maybe you will take what you see here and re-evaluate your own notions of death and respect to improve yourself and be more tolerant of change.

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