Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead) Origin

Posted by Julia G on


The origin of “Dia de Muertos” (Day of the Dead) goes back some 2,500 to 3,000 years, to the rituals honoring the dead in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica.

The Aztec, Toltec and other Nahua people living in what is now central Mexico held a cyclical view of the universe. In these cultures, death was an integral and natural part of the human cycle.

dia de muertos day of the dead

The goddess Mictecacihuatl “Señora de la Muerte” (Lady of the Dead) and Mictlantecuhtli “Señor del Inframundo” (Lord of the Underworld) were the rulers of Mictlán. The goddess Mictecacihuatl is considered as the predecessor of what we commonly know now as the “Catrina.”

catrina calavera skull

Upon dying, a person was believed to travel to Chicunamictlán, the Land of the Dead. Only after getting through nine challenging levels, the soul could finally reach Mictlán, the final resting place. The Aztecs had a festival around August to honor the dead. During the rituals, family members provided food, water and tools to aid the deceased in their journey to Mictlán. This inspired the contemporary “Dia de Muertos” (Day of the Dead) practice in which people leave food or other offerings on their loved ones’ graves, or set them out on altars called “ofrendas” in their homes.

After the arrival of the Spaniards in Mexico, Catholicism was introduced to the indigenous people and traditions and beliefs started to blend. The celebration was moved from August to November to adjust the Catholic festivities of “All Saints” and “All Souls.” Our contemporary festivity of “Día de Muertos” (Day of the Dead) has changed over the years to become the distinct tradition it is now. November 1st is known as “Día de los Inocentes” (Day of the Innocents) and November 2nd is referred to as “Día de Muertos” or “Día de los Difuntos” (Day of the Dead).  


During both days (1st and 2nd of November), Mexican families gather together in cemeteries and in their own homes to honor the memory of deceased loved ones. Beautiful altars called “ofrendas” are seen everywhere in Mexico (public spaces and homes). It is common belief that during these two days the spirits temporarily return to Earth and the “ofrendas” are a way to welcome them so they can enjoy all the human things again.

“Dia de los muertos” (Day of the Dead) decorations involve may things. The elements in the “ofrendas” are full of symbolism. Candles (to light up the way of the deceased), water (to quench their thirst after the long journey), incense (to praise and purify), cempasúchil (orange Mexican marigold) to guide the spirits and to decorate. Ofrendas also have “papel picado”, sugar skulls, photos of the deceased and their favorite foods and drinks.

ofrenda altar


Food is an important part of the Mexican “Day of the Dead” celebration. Along with the favourite food and drinks of the deceased, we can find other typical foods in the “ofrendas”.  

“Pan de muerto” (bread of the dead) is a delicious sweet bread decorated with bones made from dough.

pan de muerto bread of the dead

“Calaveritas de azúcar” (sugar skulls) made of sugar or chocolate pressed in molds in the form of skulls and beautifully decorated with edible colors.

calaveritas de azucar sugar skull

Common drinks such as the delicious Mexican hot chocolate (added with cinnamon and vanilla), atole, champurrado and alcoholic beverages such as pulque, mezcal or tequila are included.

Mole” and “tamales” are also very popular foods during the festivities.

Celebrating “Día de Muertos” (Day of the Dead) is a true celebration of life. It’s a special time to reflect about death but also celebrate life itself.

We have some very special products with our traditional Mexican sugar skull designs. Click the following link: "Calavera Collection" to check them out!

Do you want to continue with this beautiful Mexican tradition? We have authentic Mexican handmade palm baskets and woven napkins 100% cotton that will look great in your “ofrenda” decorations. Click the photos below, and a new window will open to our own Mexicandoo Amazon storefront where you can buy them. All of our Mexican handmade products are made under "fair trade" conditions.


mexican palm baskets with woven cotton napkinset handmade palm baskets women napkin

palm baskets with lid woven napkinmexican woven cotton napkin


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