Origins

Day of the Dead is celebrated in Mexico on November 1st and 2nd. It is a holiday in which Mexicans remember and honor their deceased loved ones. Though it may sound gloomy or morbid, it's not. It's a festive and colorful holiday. Mexicans visit cemeteries, decorate the graves and spend time there, in the presence of their deceased friends and family members. They also make elaborately decorated altars (called ofrendas) in their homes to welcome the spirits.

In Prehispanic times the dead were buried close to family homes (sometimes in a tomb underneath the house) and there was great emphasis on maintaining ties with deceased ancestors, who were believed to continue to exist on a different plane. With the arrival of the Spaniards and Catholicism, All Souls' and All Saints' Day practices were incorporated into Prehispanic beliefs and customs and theholiday as we know it today came to be celebrated. The belief behind Day of the Dead practices is that spirits return to the Earth for one day of the year to be with their families. It is said that the spirits of babies and children who have died (called angelitos, "little angels") arrive on October 31st at midnight, spend an entire day with their families and then leave. Adults come the following day. Learn more about the origins of the holiday.

Because of its importance as a defining aspect of Mexican culture and the unique aspects of the celebration, which have been passed down through generations, Mexico's indigenous festivity dedicated to the dead was recognized by UNESCO as part of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity in 2008.