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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Adults’ graves aren’t typically decorated until the following night, for fear the children will become jealous.
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.
Andrea Noel is a freelance journalist based in Mexico