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Celebrating Day of the Dead Outside

by Karen Ung

Dia de Muertes or Day of the Dead is a beautiful way to remember one’s ancestors.

The Day of the Dead (celebrated from Halloween night until November 2nd) honors those who are no longer with us. After watching the animated film, The Book of Life, my girls were fascinated by the sugar skulls and colorful imagery, and wanted to learn more about this holiday. Discover why and how the Day of the Dead is celebrated and ways you can celebrate this holiday outside.


What Is The Day of The Dead?

The Day of the Dead is an ancient holiday to remember friends and family who have passed away. It is believed that the souls of the deceased come back to visit their loved ones and give council, and is a time of celebration! 

Although the timing coincides with Catholic holidays, the Day of the Dead is not a religious holiday, but a cultural one celebrated since the time of the Aztecs.

When is Day of the Dead celebrated?

Historically, the Day of the Dead was celebrated in August, but after Spanish colonization (of Mexico), the holiday was moved to take place at the same time as the Christian holidays of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, on November 1st and November 2nd respectively. Festivities begin on Halloween night (as New Year’s eve) as it believed that spirits will return at midnight for 24 hours. November 1st is the day to remember children who are no longer with us, and the 2nd is to remember deceased adults. 

How is Day of the Dead celebrated?

Families visit and tend the graves of their loved ones and say some kind words to remember them. Altars (ofrendas) are also built and maintained at home. Altars and graves are adorned with flowers (marigolds are the flowers of the dead), decorations including sugar/ceramic skulls (calaveras) and cardboard skeletons, gifts, and treats for the deceased such as their favorite foods, alcohol, pan de muertos (bread of the dead), and sugar skulls. The names of the deceased are often put on the sugar skulls or pan de muertos.

Schools, and some offices, also have altars so people may pay their respects during the celebrations. Altar offerings may be eaten on November 3rd after the dead have had their fill.

Celebrations in the south of Mexico are quite lively. Many families hold picnics or parties in cemeteries with live music and dancing (sometimes with shells on their clothes to wake up the dead!) to celebrate the lives of those who have passed on. Some parties go on all night long!

How Can We Celebrate Day of the Dead Outside?

Please note these are my fun recommendations, and not necessarily traditional ways to celebrate.

  1. Take a Day of the Dead Walk in a graveyard. 
    • Visit graves of family or friends and leave flowers or offerings. 
    • Talk about the holiday and its meaning.
  2. Make some Pan de Muertos (day of the dead bread) or skull/skeleton sugar cookies and bring them with you for a hike and picnic. Don’t forget to decorate your pan de muertos with bones made of dough or icing! This is a nice Pan de Muertos recipe from Allrecipes.
    Pan de Muertos
  3. Build an ofrenda (altar) and go to a pumpkin patch or apple orchard to collect offerings (apples and pumpkins are traditional). Walk to a greenhouse or nursery and pick up some marigolds for your ofrenda.
  4. Put up Day of the Dead decorations! We love these sugar skull window clings (from the dollar store).
Sugar skull window clings

Will you celebrate Day of the Dead this year?

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