Catrinas and Calaveras in Cancun

Mexico is known across the globe for its vibrant and colorful holidays. Here, even death itself takes on a joyful vibe every year on El Dia de los Muertos (“The Day of the Dead”). Held on November 1 and 2, this holiday celebrates loved ones who have passed on with altars to the deceased called ofrendas and an annual visit to grave sites.

Since Day of the Dead falls so close to Halloween, the two holidays are often combined here in Cancun. Children roam neighborhoods trick-or-treating with parents and friends, while the streets fill up with images of La Catrina, an elegant lady skeleton symbolizing Day of the Dead.

One of the many Catrinas I found in Cancun’s Parque Las Palapas tonight

 Tonight was an interesting one for Jorge and me. We had several groups of trick-or-treaters stop by, and we gave them some classic Mexican candies. (Jorge’s enjoying the leftovers as I write this.) Then we took a stroll around Parque Las Palapas, which had lots of family activities, people in costume, and a show with colorful Mexican dances.

My best friend Viri had an ofrenda for her brother and grandfather set up at her home, and her parents were kind enough to let me take some pictures. It has many of the classic ofrenda elements, with incense, marigolds (Flor de Muerto), pan de muerto, candles to guide the way of the deceased, sugar skulls (calaveras) and some of their favorite food and drinks from when they were living.

I always feel like Day of the Dead is a fascinating mix of intimate family memories and vivid social traditions, bringing together families and communities alike. This year in Cancun was no different.

Disclosure:  I am being compensated for my work in creating and managing content as a Community Manager for the Mexico Today Program.  All stories, opinions and passion for all things Mexico shared here are completely my own.

Day of the Dead Traditions Begin in Cancun

“Dia de los Muertos” (Day of the Dead) is one of the biggest holidays in Mexico, falling on November 2. Mixing in with Halloween traditions from its northern neighbor, Mexico’s Day of the Dead traditions offer a surreal combination of vibrant color, sadness, respect, comedy and culture, all in honor of loved ones who have passed away.

Even though many locals accuse the young city of Cancun as devoid of culture, I beg to differ. Even though most of our population comes from all over Mexico and the world, you’ll still find each Mexican family’s own version of a Day of the Dead altar. A few days prior to November 2, Mexican families begin to set up altars in their homes to honor the deceased.

Traditional Day of the Dead altar decor usually includes the following:

  • Marigolds
  • Calaveritas (small decorative skulls made of sugar)
  • Papel picado, colorful sheets of paper with shapes cut out
  • Photos of the deceased
  • Candles
  • Pan de muerto, a traditional loaf of sweet bread used only at this time of year
  • Food and drinks that the deceased enjoyed when they were alive

As the cold weather begins to set in (NOOO!), Cancun will start to make their altar purchases over the next week or so. Hopefully I’ll be able to document some of my friend’s family altars. For now, I’ll leave you with some photos from last year’s Day of the Dead in Cancun:

Setting up a Day of the Dead Altar

Here in Mexico, November 2 is Day of the Dead, when everyone celebrates and remembers their family members who have passed on.

Altars are set up in homes with pictures of the deceased, alongside the deceased’s favorite foods, drinks and more. Here in Cancun, people started setting up altars as soon as Saturday.

Sunday night, Jorge and I went to Cancun’s Market 23 with our friends Juan and Viri to buy some altar items for Viri’s house.

Market 23

Candy mmm!!

Tiny "Calaveritas" made of sugar... traditionally, you place one to represent each deceased family member on the altar, plus one for extended relatives, plus one for all those who don't have anyone to make their altar

"Pan de Muerto" (Bread of the Dead) is sold only around this time of year. You can eat it (Starbucks is selling it right now) or place it on your altar... or both!

"Flor de Muerto" (Flower of the Dead) - Marigolds are always placed on altars. Most altars have whole flowers along with petals scattered on them.

These cut-out paper banners are usually used to cover the altar.

Candles and incense are also used on many altars.

My friend Viri buying candies and holding flowers for her brother's altar

I didn’t get a photo of Viri’s altar (stupid camera battery), but here’s something similar so you get an idea:

This post is getting a bit long, so I’ll wait until tomorrow t0 tell you about my encounter with “La Catrina”!