Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday and 3-day celebration to honor the spiritual journey of the dead. This year I was able to travel to and celebrate in Puerto Vallarta and was completely blown away at how joyful it was.
The holiday is broken up into three days: All Saints Eve on Oct. 31st, All Saints Day on Nov. 1st, and All Souls Day on Nov. 2nd. It was fascinating to witness the festivities each day, particularly because celebrating death doesn’t exactly sound fun and watching it felt like some altered reality.
In the US, we have Halloween which is the closest thing to our tradition, but it is nothing like this. Halloween is about being someone you aren’t; we are not celebrating those who have gone.
It was evident that there were elements of mixing Halloween and Dia de los Muertos amongst Mexican costumes, but for the most part it was a wholesome family event full of laughter and joy channeled at lost loved ones.
It was impossible not to smile, dance, cheers and share in the genuine happiness of the thousands of people in the streets, in the cemetery, in the parade and everywhere else across the city.
It was particularly powerful in the cemetery, not exactly a place where I’ve ever convened with strangers before. When we arrived there were street vendors outside the gates ready for the visitors. Families were set up outside the various tombs with food, music, flowers; and children were running around playing everywhere. Some folks could be seen in mourning, but mostly people were hanging out with their lost loved ones as if they were still there; it was truly moving.
Pretty soon after walking around we heard the music kick up a notch and lots of rumbling of motorcycles. The main parade that concludes the holiday was beginning outside and we were in perfect position to see things get going. Each group seemed to mix traditional Mexican heritage with facepaint and still have a modern take on the tradition.
Folks of all ages were in the parade and they danced through the streets from the cemetery, down the Malecon overlooking the ocean, to the main town center where the gorgeous oferendas were candlelit at sunset greeted by one massive party.
It was sobering to walk around and see the oferendas decorated with the details of what the deceased loved — anything from food and drink to school photos and love letters. There was something so joyful watching the groups tend to them, making sure every detail was perfect. What a lovely way to honor those we’ve lost — creating beautiful public art each year for others to enjoy.
I look forward to heading back to celebrate the Day of the Dead tradition in other regions of Mexico over the years, as it is already something I would like to experience again and again.
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