Showcase April: Dia de Muertos, scary yet colorful tradition of Mexico

in OCD3 years ago (edited)

Hey guys,

this is my contribution to the Showcase April Initiative the purpose of which is to share the best posts you have ever created on Steem. This one is dedicated to Dia de Muertos (The Day of the Dead). I created it some 1.5 year ago. All photos featured in this post were taken by me in Mexico.

Dia de Muertos - tradicion muy viva. Day of the Dead - tradition still much alive. Photo taken in Playa del Carmen.

Originally, prior to the Spanish colonization of Central and South America, Dia de Muertos was celebrated in summer but it was later moved to the period between October 31 and November 2 so that the holiday would coincide with Christian holidays such as Halloween or the All Souls´ Day. So these days, the Dia de Muertos celebrations start on the eve of October 31 and it ends on November 2.

Dia de Muertos originated in what is now Mexico, centuries ago when pre-Hispanic cultures such the Aztecs, Toltecs and Mayas believed that deceased members of their families could temporarily return to Earth but over the course of time, the tradition was gradually adopted all over Latin America.

During the holiday, families and friends gather to remember the deceased they loved, to pray for them and to help them return to Earth. Dia de Muertos comes with a variety of traditions that are observed on those three days so let me now introduce you to some of them through my photos that I tok on the Mayan Riviera, Mexico in 2017.


Meaning "skull" in English, calavera is one of the most important symbols of Dia de Muertos. They come in literally all possible shapes, sizes and colors and they are everywhere. But I am mean EVERYWHERE. Let me show you a few examples.

From what I observed, most calaveras are made from clay.

Despite being the symbol of the death, the skulls (just like all other objects used during the Dia de Muertos celebrations) are actually brimming with colors. The Mexicans have a very specific perception of the death, very different from us Europeans, for example.

One would almost say some of them are a kind of cute...

...while others are downright creepy and terrifying.

These skulls are a great example of a Mexican tradition known as the Huichol art.

This unique art includes folk-art and handcrafts produced by the Huichol people, native Americans (or Indians) who live in some parts of Mexico such as the states of Durango, Jalisco or Nayarit.

Among all the vivid colors, stumbling on these ordinary monochrome skulls felt somewhat weird.

Skull candles.

Skulls on plates.

Skulls on walls. Like I said before, skulls are everywhere on Dia de Muertos.


Calacas translate as "skeletons" in English and they are almost as common during Dia de Muertos as calaveras. Just like with the skulls, the skeletons are also usually depicted as happy rather than mournful figures.

These guys do not really seem to be taking the death too seriously.

Skeleton mariachi party anyone?

Skeleton wedding.

Skeleton waiting for you.

Skeleton Marilyn.

Skeleton racer.

Skeleton bandit and his skeleton ladies.

Skeletons bored to death.

But the skeletons do not have to belong to humans only. There are horse skeletons too.

And mouse skeletons of course. Or are these dogs´ ? I am not really sure here but whatever they are, they are creepy!


Ofrendas are altars. On Dia de Muertos, the Mexicans build private altars where they put their deceased family members´ favorite objects, foods, drinks, their photos, candles, skulls and other things to welcome them back to Earth and to help them find the altars made for them.

Traditional Dia de Muertos altar built in front of the Municipal Palace in the city of Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo.

They often mark the way towards the altars with petals of the Mexican marigold, a herbaceous perennial plant typical of some Mexican states. The orange marigold is another common theme of Dia de Muertos.

The families tend to make the altars as colorful and bright as possible.

To make sure the departed will find their altars, you can scatter the marigold path with skulls.

I think no passer-by would ever dare to steal anything from this altar.

After the sunset, the candles on the altars are lit, giving them even spookier and more magical feel.

La Catrina Mask

La Catrina originated as a zinc etching created by the popular Mexican print maker and illustrator Jose Guadalupe Posada in 1913, personifying a satirical portrait of Mexican women who wanted to adopt the aristocratic traditions of their European counterparts. A few decades later, in the 1940s, Diego Rivera, one of the most prominent Mexican painters (and the husband of Frida Kahlo), completed Posada´s portrait with a body in one of his greatest murals and the newly created figure was named La Catrina. Soon after that, La Catrina became the symbol of death in Mexico and her importance and popularity in the Dia de Muertos celebrations were growing every year.

Mexican women want to look like La Catrina during the celebrations so some of them buy La Catrina masks in the store...

...while others have the masks painted right on their faces. Girls and women dressed and painted like this then hang around the altars and join massive processions later on during the night.


No Mexican celebration would be complete without plenty of food. On Dia de Muertos, however, the food gets a bit spooky too. Apart from the food and treats that their deceased loved, the Mexicans also decorate the altars with special Dia de Muertos candies such as sugar skulls, typical sweet bread known as pan de muerto or sweet alcoholic drink known as pulque that is made from fermented agave sap.

I don´t remember what these candies were made from but they looked disturbingly creepy.

I took some courage but I dared to try this lollipop. It was scarily sweet and took me hours to lick it off.

Nevertheless, it is not only the departed returning back to Earth who get hungry during the Dia de Muertos celebrations. The participants of the processions also need some fuel to be able to keep up with the pace of the celebrations. I think this is where Dia de Muertos got inspired by the Halloween trick-or-treat tradition as I saw many kids dressed in scary costumes asking for treats in the street.

They keep the treats they get in these special containers. When I saw them for the first time in the store, I actually thought they were lamps or something and it was not until I noticed them in the procession again when I finally figured out their real purpose.

I hope you enjoyed this post about Dia de Muertos as much as we enjoyed this fascinating holiday on the famous Mexican Riviera Maya in 2017. Let me wrap it up with one last interesting, yet relatively unknown fact - this holiday is so popular in Latin America (and many other parts of the world too these days) that UNESCO decided to add it to their list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2008.



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