Andrea Noel

MEXICO CITY—“Dia de los Muertos” is an annual occasion for Mexicans to mock death and celebrate those who have passed away. Across the country, families build altars for the dead, leaving treats and offerings for the spirits of deceased loved ones.

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On All Saints' Day, which this year fell on Nov. 1 Mexican teenagers and hipsters wholeheartedly embrace their country's traditional folklore, painting their faces to resemble colorful catrinas and calaveras, which translates roughly as Lady Death and her skulls. But as Mexicans increasingly adopt the tradition of trick-or-treating on Oct. 31, it's becoming increasingly difficult to tell where Halloween ends and Day of the Dead begins. (Although careful who you say that to, since not all Mexicans take lightly to a blending of the two holidays.)

Tens of thousands of people strolled through Mexico City’s historic center on Saturday night, wearing both traditional and modern costumes.
Andrea Noel

Historically, Halloween isn’t a recognized holiday in Mexico. But thanks to fluid borders, fluid families, and fluid cultures, elements of Halloween are increasingly being incorporated into Mexico's Dia de los Muertos—and vice versa.

Catrina, or Lady Death, struts her stuff for Day of the Dead in Mexico City
Andrea Noel

Day of the Dead is also starting to feel more like “Week of the Dead”—at least in Mexico City. The night before Halloween, hordes of trick-or-treaters poured into the streets of Mexico City wearing masks or drenched in fake blood.

Just past midnight on Halloween, a young woman rests on a downtown street.
Andrea Noel

Turnout was even larger on Oct. 31, as a record number of Mexican trick-or-treaters turned out for an annual bike ride. Nearly 100,000 Chilangos, as Mexico City natives call themselves, dressed in costume and rode their bikes through the city’s downtown.

Andrea Noel
The Angel of Death in front of a downtown cathedral in the early morning hours on Sunday.
Andrea Noel

In a more typical ceremony, hundreds gathered at the cemetery in San Andres Mixquic, 25 miles outside of downtown Mexico City, for a three-day celebration to commemorate their dead.

Piles of human bones were stacked against altars, for the curious to peruse, and for the comfort of the dead.
Andrea Noel

On the night All Saints’ Day,  children’s graves are decorated with Cempazuchi flowers— marigolds are traditionally used in Day of the Dead celebrations — and candles are lit beside tombstones.

A candle is lit by a cross covered in marigolds, as a gesture for Luis, a dead child.
Andrea Noel

Adults’ graves aren’t typically decorated until the following night, for fear the children will become jealous.

Hundreds of vendors set up shop outside the Mixquic cemetery. For local children, Day of the Dead means a carnival, not a day of mourning.
Andrea Noel
A man spins cotton candy outside the cemetery gates. Tufts rise and catch on nearby light poles.
Andrea Noel
Severed goat heads rest on a table outside the cemetery — but as an offering for hungry passersby, not a token for the deceased.
Andrea Noel

The next night, after the children’s souls have received their offerings, the Mixquic cemetery is lit ablaze with thousands of candles as graves are decorated with figurines of the Itzcuintli dog, whose duty it is to help the souls cross the last river into Mictlán — the Aztec underworld.

Children climb on top of the Itzcuintli dog in Mixquic, as a luchador looks on.
Andrea Noel

Andrea Noel is a freelance journalist based in Mexico