"Día de los Muertos" Explained for foreigners

Okay, I’ll try to make this simple for everybody to understand

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This lovely woman over there is known as “La Catrina” drawn by Jose Guadalupe Posada in 1910, but back then her name was “Calavera Garbancera”, the last name being a term used to mock indigenous citizens who refused to acknowledge their roots and pretended to be European…but they were poor as well.  

However it was Diego Rivera who named her “La Catrina” in one of his paintings “Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central”, where she appeared along her creator and dressed as a rich person.

But what does she have to do with the “Día de los Muertos”?

It’s easy, she has become an iconic representation of it…along with the works of Jose Guadalupe Posada who, mind you, invented the “Calaveras”: poems that vary in length but are always about people cheating death (or La Parca), winning or loosing their lives.

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And this is another job of this fine man. Most of his images were critics to the society of that time but have become iconic representations of this celebration as well.

But weren’t you going to explain this “Día de los Muertos?”

Oh! Of course! Okay so here’s the thing:
This “Día de los Muertos” (Day of the Dead), is a celebration that begins in November 1st, “Día de los fieles difuntos”, a day to celebrate the kids who passed away and finishes the following day, “El Día de los Muertos”, the big day.

It is believed that, during those days, the ghosts of those who left this world return to spend some time with those who are left behind among the living.

Altar de Muertos

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This isn’t something that is put all the year to decorate the house (it’s meant to be put only for two days)…this is a special thing that does something wonderful: remember those who died and were special to us. This is the reason that there is a photograph of the honoured person atop of it.

There is a special type of flower used for this: cempasuchitl, which is believed to guide the spirits of people to their respective altars.

And, if you can notice it, there are plenty of colours over it, decorations made with papel mache, candles, toys (those are mostly for the kids), and decorations on the ground that act like the flower that I mentioned above.

Now, there’s a candy unique to this day that is only made during the holidays: Calaverita de azucar (sugar skull), the sweetest thing you’ll ever eat, I guarantee it, since it’s basically sugar in all of it’s glory. But it’s not just a pile of sugar, no, it’s sugar in the form of a skull, decorated to look like this:

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The thing of their foreheads is a space where one writes the name of those who left this world…or you could write your own as well.

The “Altar the Muertos” also has food on it, besides the sugar skulls, like “Pan de Muerto” (Dead bread) and no, it’s not rotten bread, it’s actually bread with a good layer of sugar above it, shaped to look like this:

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And it’s only made during the holidays too.

So there’s food on this “Altar de Muertos”?

You can bet there is! but it’s not for you!….well, not at all, but it’s for the one who died (that person that is being honoured),hence the reason that there’s food on it. Food that the one who died liked while still alive… you see: the ghost comes to your house and, if there’s food that he/she used to eat, he/she’ll feel like at home. So, long story short: the ghost eats the soul of his/her favourite food, then leaves during November 2nd.

After that you and your family can eat the food left at the altar but it won’t taste like it usually does.

This Altar can be put in either your house of at the graveyard, covering the tombstone of the one it’s destined to. Either way it still is a beautiful sight.

Did I mention that you can put it on a graveyard? Well, now you know.

Where does it come from?

This wonderful celebration comes from the prehispanic era, where it was accompanied by Mictecacíhuatl, the Lady of Death, all in honour of the kids and adults who died (and it has retained those aspects to the date).

However, during the Conquest of Mexico, the religious people mixed it with their European traditions and so it was born.

  Can I celebrate it even if I’m not mexican?

Of course you can! Just keep in mind that it’s not like Halloween and it has a deep meaning beneath the colours:

  • To honour those who left us behind in the road of life
  • Remember them and have them closer to us
  • And mock death…in a respectful manner

It’s not only a party thrown out just because of yes, OH HELL NO! It’s a meaningful celebration to link the past with the future and cherish life even after death.



An altar has different elements:

  1. Chopped paper: represent the wind
  2. Candles: to light the road of the soul
  3. Water: to satisfy the thirst of the soul. People also uses the dead´s person favorite drink.
  4. Flowers: Cempasúchil flower is to decorate the altar.
  5. Seeds: “Polvo eres y el polvo te convertiras”
  6. Skulls: skulls made of sugar or chocolate, it´s like making a joke to death.
  7. Food: It must be the death person´s favorite food so his soul can eat it.


Altares de Muertos en la Facultad de Filosofía y Letras de la UANL.

Estos altares fueron hechos a varias personas diferentes. Unos fueron hechos para algún maestro, otros para personajes muy queridos en nuestro país (el de la última foto fue hecho a Capulina) y uno en especial para compañeros que ya no están con nosotros.


There is something called “altar”, and there types:

Altar with 2 levels: represent the division between heaven and earth.

Altar with 3 levels: represents heaven, earth and the underworld.

Altar with 7 levels: represents the seven levels that a soul most go through to rest in peace. Otomí culture indicates that the seven levels represents the seven sins. Aztec culture indicates that the seven levels are the seven kinds of destinies, because this culture says that there are different kind of deaths. 

pjo characters as things i’ve done

Saw this and I wanted to do it lmao (I added some more to the list)

percy jackson - When I was 15 I started a diet along with my mom and my sister, but that week I decided to eat everything I was told not to and still lost 2kg.

annabeth chase - When I was in Junior highschool we had to build an altar for Dia de Muertos, the teams were chosen by the teacher, (like ten people per class) and I wasn’t choose at first, did that stop me?, of course not, I knew that those suckers were going to fuck things up so I went out anyway, I told them what to do, I built the altar with my bare hands (with their help of course, they were under my command) so in like two days we built a freaking altar like 2x2mts. and it was beautiful, I also stood there in front if the teachers to explained the theme of our altar, the meaning of the food and photos etc, and guess what? we.fucking.won, at the end of the day the teacher told me that my explanation had helped a lot and that it was the main reason of why we had won, so yeah, I saved your ass, you’re welcome losers.

grover underwood - I used to pick caterpillars and take them to my house as pets, and one of those caterpillar actually seemed to be ok with its new home, so I fed it with some leaves from my avocado tree (that was really tiny then) and a few weeks later my tree had no leaves left but that was ok cause the caterpillar was in the middle of its metamorphosis and then.. it turned into a moth, I was so freaking excited I actually cried, I set it free and a few months later, my tree was completely recovered and it was like 2 mts tall.

thalia grace - I’m the older of the youngest cousins so whenever we had to go to someone’s funeral (that it happened not to often, thank god) I used to buy my cousins some food with the few coins saved that I had for those occasions

rachel elizabeth dare - This one is short and creepy: one night my sister woke up to find me staring at her… while I was still asleep

nico di angelo - once again, when I was 15 I cut my hair really short and wore nothing but black, I used to say that I hated everyone but I was the biggest dork ever tbh 

luke castellan - I was fighting with my cat (cause she hates me) when she scratched my face right on top of my eye and under my lip, I was bleeding so much that I got scared and for a moment i thought that I’d be needing stitches, fortunately, I only got a tiny scar in both places lmao

ethan nakamura - I thought I was wearing my glasses so I tried to adjust them and poked my eye 

Jason Grace- I was trying to remember what I had had for breakfast the previous day when I realised I couldn’t even remember where had I been the previous day

Piper Mclean- I know tons of secrets, I only have to sit next to them and ask how’re they doing and they just confess their sins with me, is awesome. (I don’t go around telling other people’s secrets tho, I’m not like that) I’m just like a tiny box of blackmail that is never going to be open.

Leo Valdez- I was playing with matches when I ended up almost burning my living room, I was 11 and home alone, I guess that’s the reason why my mom doesn’t trust me lmao

Frank Zhang- I always bake some cupcakes for my friends on valentine’s day, halloween and christmas, and if there’s some left, I give them away to people that didn’t get anything from their friends

Hazel Levesque- “What is smut?” -I asked, before I read a Newtmas fic.

Reyna Ramirez Arellano- One of my friends bit my arm and really hurt me, so when he was runing away I threw him a cup filled with salsa and (don’t ask where did I get that) and when he told me that he had told the prefect about it so I could be punish, I looked at him with a straight face and said out loud “Good, I don’t give a shit” I was 13.