Performers fill the streets during the Day of the Dead in San Francisco's Mission District, Monday, Nov. 2, 2009. Day of the Dead is a ritual celebrated by the indigenous people of Mexico for over 3,000 years, this celebration is held to honor and communicate with those who have passed into spirit world. It is believed that on the Day of the Dead it is easier for the souls of the departed to visit the living.

Day of the Dead, Part II: Re-Made in America

ICTMN Staff
10/31/11

The Day of the Dead, primarily a Mexican holiday, has seen its influence spread across the globe. Its origins can be traced back to the indigenous cultures of Mexico as far back as 3,000 years ago.

The Spaniards forced the Aztecs to move their month-long celebration that had been held during what corresponds to August according to their calendar. But although the conquerors put the holiday in line with the Catholic observances of All Saints' Day (November 1) and All Souls' Day (November 2), the indigenous are having the last laugh, as their supposedly pagan ceremonies continue to be celebrated almost exactly as they'd been doing for time immemorial.

As Mexican influence—and Mexicans themselves—have traveled and emigrated, particularly to the United States, they have brought their traditions with them. Moreover, it's catching on of its own accord.

The U.S. celebrations, too, carry the typical private altars adorned with sugar skulls, marigolds and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed. Graves are cleaned and decorated, toys are brought for dead children, and alcohol is often offered to the deceased adults, such as tequila, mescal or pulque.

Celebrations are often humorous, with celebrants recounting funny events and anecdotes about their lost loved ones. People also write short poems, called calaveras (skulls) and mocking epitaphs of friends. The traditions and activities of a Day of the Dead festival can vary dramatically from town to town, state to state, or country to country.

In the United States, Day of the Dead celebrations can be found in areas with Mexican residents, such as Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas. The All Souls Procession has been going in Tucson since 1990, combining traditional Day of the Dead celebrations with pagan harvest festival traditions. Americans celebrate Day of the Dead in different forms and for different reasons, from Los Angeles to San Francisco, from Missoula to New York City. News organizations from the Associated Press to the Huffington Post to Fox News are picking up on the growing trend of Day of the Dead celebrations in the United States.

In Brazil, Dia de Finados is a public holiday that many Brazilians celebrate by visiting cemeteries and churches. In Spain, parades and festivals abound, with people gather at cemeteries to pray for their dearly departed at day's end. Day of the Dead celebrations have spread to Europe and many Asian cultures.

What they all have in common is they all have that original, indigenous root.  Let's take a look at some of these celebrations:

New Mexico

Dia de Los Muertos Parade, Albuquerque, New Mexico


Port Isabel, Texas

Day of the Dead, Port Isabel, Texas

Tucson, Arizona

The All Souls Procession, Tucson, Arizona

Los Angeles, California

Day of the Dead, Los Angeles


San Francisco, California


Missoula, Montana

Day of the Dead, Missoula, Montana

New York City

Day of the Dead, New York City


Washington, D.C.


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