Day of the Dead or Día de Muertos is a Pan-Latin tradition, but the Mexican version has gone global. It’s an Indigenous tradition syncretized with European traditions.
The iconic Mexican skull imagery is striking, but there is nothing bad or scary about Day of the Dead. It is a memorial day when families tend the graves of their loved ones. The idea is that you live as long as someone remembers you, so we remember our loved ones.
Every culture does this one way or another. Samhain/Halloween is considered scary, but Day of the Dead is about family love and respect.
Mexican Día de Muertos is actually a three-day celebration.
- October 31 ~ We make home altars called “ofrendas” to invite our ancestors to visit.
- November 1 ~ Invited child souls may visit on November 1.
- November 2 ~ Invited adult souls may visit on November 2, Day of the Dead.
Halloween is a distinct, but related European tradition. According to old European tradition, this is the time of year when the souls of people who died in the past year continue their journey.
Wednesday, November 2, 2022
Friday, October 29, 2021
Flushing Meadows Corona Park
At this time of the year, when the harvest work is done, families memorialize their loved ones and tend their graves.
Aztec/Maya peoples commemorated deceased family members in the month of August. It was a big deal because in Aztec/Maya cosmology, death is reality and life is just a dream.
European tradition (Samhain/Halloween) is that the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead dissolves on the night of October 31st. Colonizer priests in Mexico used their power over daily life to realign Aztec/Maya traditions with similar European Halloween, All Saints Day and All Souls Day traditions.
Later Irish immigrants to New York brought European Halloween costume and parading traditions with them.
Today we think of Day of the Dead as Mexican, but the source traditions are strongest in Oaxaca. In the 1930s, after the Mexican Revolution, the Mexican government promoted Day of the Dead as part of its effort to build a Mexican nation around its Indigenous identity.
In 1947, legendary Mexican muralist Diego Rivera painted Catrina into his mural “Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park.”
In the U.S. face painting became part of Halloween traditions.
Modern workforce migration patterns blended U.S. and Mexican traditions. Mexican workers used to head north in spring and return home to their families for the holidays. They brought Halloween costume, parade and face painting traditions with them.
In 2008, UNESCO recognized Day of the Dead as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. That helped popularize Mexican Day of the Dead traditions around the world.
There are unique versions of ancestral veneration everywhere in the Americas and around the world, but the Mexican tradition is the one that has become part of our global heritage.
In New York City, Calpulli Mexican Dance Company, NYC Parks, the American Museum of Natural History, El Museo del Barrio, Mano a Mano community organization, Our Lady of Mount Carmel-St. Benedicta School in Staten Island and others usually hold Day of the Dead celebrations. Calpulli’s shows are stunningly beautiful. Mano a Mano gets deep into the festival’s meaning.
It’s actually a private family tradition, so you can celebrate Día de los Muertos at home. Just remembering your family is enough.
By the way, in México, it’s “Día de Muertos.” “Dia de los Muertos” is a literal (but incorrect) reverse translation.
Saturday, October 26, 2019
BEDFORD-STUYVESANT, Brooklyn ~ NYC Parks holds a family celebration of Day of the Dead and Fall traditions at Hattie Carthan Community Market
Fri-Sun, October 25-27, 2019
EAST VILLAGE, NYC ~ Day of the Dead altar building, Mexican Marketplace, live music and Indigenous Aztec ceremony at St. Mark’s Church-in-the-bowery
Sunday, October 20, 2019
WEST BRIGHTON, Staten Island ~ Help build a communal ofrenda (altar) and learn Mexican Day of the Dead handicrafts for the entire family with teaching artists at Our Lady of Mount Carmel-St. Benedicta School
Day of the Dead Traditions
DAY OF THE DEAD
Wednesday, November 2, 2022
DAY OF THE DEAD
Tuesday, November 2, 2021
We build home altars to invite family souls to visit us on the Day of the Holy Innocents (November 1) and the Day of the Dead (November 2)
October 31 – November 2
Mexican Marigolds are a Central American flower with healing powers that attract spirits to visit their families on the Day of the Dead
Thursday, July 25, 2019
LINCOLN CENTER ~ Mariachi Real de Mexico plays the main plaza, then La Santa Cecilia from Los Angeles performs before a screening in Spanish with English subtitles. 2018 Oscar & Golden Globe Best Animated Film
Past Day of the Dead Celebrations
Enscenario: El Día de Muertos Llega al Town Hall
by Fernando Cárdenas
NY1 Theater Reporter
November 3, 2017
What’s El Día de los Muertos? It’s Not Scary, and It’s Not Halloween
by Kristina Puga
November 1, 2017
St. Mark’s Church
131 East 10th St
at Second Ave
East Village, Manhattan
Friday – Sunday
October 27 – 29, 2017
Thursday, October 26, 2017
COUNT BASIE THEATRE
Red Bank, New Jersey
Sunday, October 29, 2017
Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens
Saturday, November 4, 2017
THE TOWN HALL
This Day of the Dead story is so good it should be on Broadway
Saint Mary’s Park
Mott Haven, The Bronx
Saturday, October 28, 2017