Day of the Dead Celebrations Across Latin America

Many Latin American countries celebrate el Día de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, in November. During the Day of the Dead celebrations, people honor the loved ones that have passed. The Catholic holidays of Día de Todos Los Santos (All Saints Day) on November 1st and All Soul’s Day on November 2nd, Day of The Dead celebrations vary from one country and region to another. But one thing we all have in common is that the countries celebrating Dia de Los Muertos honor the dead and positively remember them while keeping our Latino culture alive.

Dia de los Muertos traditions in Latin America collage

Day of The Dead Celebrations Across The Continent

You can track Día de Los Muertos back to the indigenous cultures hundreds of years ago. Pre-Columbian civilizations have practiced rituals celebrating the deaths of ancestors for as long as 2,500–3,000 years. It was common to keep skulls as trophies and display them during the rituals to symbolize death and rebirth. Day of the Dead celebrations have morphed over the years to become the Latino tradition it is now. Decorative altars, colorful flowers, and delicious food are all integral to the Day of The Dead festivities.

Day of the Dead in Mexico sugar skulls

Where is the Day of The Dead Celebrated?

Mexico is best known for its Día de Los Muertos celebrations which include pageantry, processions, and public display of altars to the dead. In the Andean regions of Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia, families gather in cemeteries to remember ancestors and loved ones. They bring food offerings such as colada morada, a spiced fruit porridge made with Andean blackberry and purple maize. In addition, guagua de pan is another popular food, a bread shaped like a swaddled infant filled with cheese or guava.

In Brazil, the holiday of Finados (Day of the Dead) is on November 2nd. People go to cemeteries and churches with flowers, candles, and prayer to celebrate those who have passed away in a positive way. In Bolivia, the Día de las ñatitas, or Day of the Skulls, is an ancient Bolivian ritual celebrated on November 9th. Skulls of ancestors are decorated with flowers and pampered with cigarettes, coca leaves, and other treats to bring good luck to the family.

 

When is Day of the Dead or Dia de Los Muertos Celebrated?

Although it may vary from one country to the next, the Day of the Dead celebrations takes place during November. Some countries like Guatemala and Spain call November 1st Día de Todos Los Santos (All Saints Day). And on November 2nd, it is a different celebration called Día de Los Fieles Difuntos or All Souls Day. Other Latin American countries like Mexico celebrate Día de Los Muertos for more than one day, starting on November 1st and ending on the 2nd.

 

El Día de Los Muertos in Guatemala

As October ends, flower stands bloom on every corner of Guatemala City. Kite vendors’ displays sway in the brisk November winds, and marketplaces and cemeteries are full of multicolored flowers. Finally, on November 1st, families gather to celebrate All Saints Day and eat fiambre. It is a traditional salad-like cold dish that consists of assorted cold cuts, pickled vegetables, and meats. It is so complex that it can easily include 50 or more ingredients. 

Day of The Dead Guatemalan Traditions

Many people, especially in rural areas, visit the cemetery to clean the graves of their loved ones. Then, they honor their ancestors with flowers and incense. In addition, you will see many families sharing a picnic of fiambre, Tamales, and sometimes booze with them at the cemetery.

Giant Kite Festival

The most spectacular Day of the Dead celebrations in Guatemala occurs in the towns of Santiago Sacatepéquez and Sumpango. Townspeople assemble giant kites or barriletes gigantes, reaching diameters of almost 30ft, made of bamboo rods and colored paper ready to paint the sky. On November 1st, the famous Guatemalan kite festival takes place, and these giant kites with intricate designs attempt to take flight, but most of them never make it.

photo credit: [nelo] via photopin cc
photo credit: Nelo Mijangos via Vecteezy CC 
Sometimes some of the smaller ones (15-18ft in diameter) take off briefly only to come crashing down, occasionally landing on the crowd below. All through November, kites dot the clear blue sky. Although most people have forgotten the original significance of this as a means of communicating with the dead and showing them where to come down to visit their family, flying kites is one of my favorite family traditions.

In my country, Guatemala, the celebration of El Día de Los Muertos or Día de Los Difuntos is more of a family holiday. The Dia de Los Muertos traditions in Guatemala include traditional Guatemalan foods, unique festivals, and visits to the graveyard. For me, it marks the beginning of a season filled with traditional family holidays. It starts with El Día de los Muertos and then continuing with La Quema del Diablo, Las Posadas, Noche Buena, Navidad and Año Nuevo.

Posada navideña Christmas traditions in Guatemala and Mexico
Posada navideña Christmas traditions in Guatemala and Mexico

More Day of The Dead Celebrations and Ideas You’ll Love

Now that we live in the United States, we enjoy Halloween and El Día de Los Muertos, blending traditions. We love making new ones in a way that makes sense to us. So, here are other Dia de Los Muertos ideas and recipes you will surely love!

Traditional Recipes for Día De Los Muertos or Day Of The Dead Celebrations

If you’re looking for Dia de Los Muertos recipes, you’ve come to the right place. These recipes include everything from pan de Muerto and decorated sugar skulls to traditional Mexican dishes.

15 traditional Day of the Dead recipes to celebrate Dia de Muertos

Best Day Of The Dead Craft Ideas With Cricut: Includes Free SVG Files

Embrace the Dia de Los Muertos holiday with these incredible crafts ideas with Cricut. Break out your Cricut and do a project with your kids! These Day of the Dead SVG files for Cricut are perfect for your Day of the Dead altar. Plus, they make for awesome decorations for your home or as offerings. 

25 Easy Day Of The Dead DIY Projects

Here are 25 easy-to-make Day of the Dead DIY crafts. Some of these are so easy they will only take a few minutes to make. Many of these Day of the Dead arts would make incredible decorations for a Latino-inspired party!

Day of the Dead sugar skull pumpkins

Easy Day Of The Dead Party Ideas, Food, And Crafts

These kid-friendly party ideas are perfect if you’re planning a Dia de Los Muertos celebration. From sugar skull-inspired recipes to colorful decorations, there are many ideas for your Dia de Muertos party.

Dia de los Muertos Day of the Dead party ideas

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22 thoughts on “Day of the Dead Celebrations Across Latin America”

  1. Hi Paula – I always enjoy your blogs. Thank you for sharing this great information. My mom is from Guatemala and I love to learn about our culture as I haven’t been fully exposed to it. I hope to one day visit Guatemala during this time, Dia de los Muertos 🙂

    Reply
  2. You have a very colorful tradition in Guatemala. It’s a great thing that you still enjoy the same tradition in US. Since I moved here in Ireland I don’t see any tradition observed except for the children and adults wearing their costumes for the trick or treat.

    Reply
  3. Paula,

    I enjoyed reading your article. My parents are from Guatemala and I had the most amazing childhood being born in California but yet being raised by my loving grandmother in Guatemala City.
    Unfortunately, this year Ilost my oldest child in a car accident; my David had just turned 28th.

    This year is very important to me to pay tribute to my son.
    I’ve been thinking of how my grandmother and I celebrated el dia de Los muertos, I would like to celebrate David using our culture and my never ending love to my son. I look forward seeing more about our culture and traditions to help me how to do it best.

    Sincerely, Sophia

    Reply
    • Hi Sophia,
      I am so sorry about your son, my heart goes out to you and your family. For us el Dia de los Muertos is truly a special day because we celebrate those loved ones that are no longer with us and their presence feels so much closer as we honor them, talk about them and remember them on that day. There is also a certain kind of special energy knowing that so many families are joining together and sharing with loved ones (both here and those that have left us) in celebrating their lives and their love.

  4. I’m taking Spanish language classes at the Overland Learning Centre in Toronto (near Don Mills and Lawrence). Our teacher, Ivan Roma Guzman, is a native of Guatemala, a country in Central America right next door to Mexico. In his native country, the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) is a day to remember deceased family members and also celebrate their lives, including visiting the cemetery where they are buried.

    Reply

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