Day of the Dead: It is NOT Halloween

Last year, I had the honor of going to Cancun as guest of Xcaret.

You can experience a UNESCO cultural tradition while at the park. Here is the fertility dance from one of the local tribes.

Xcaret theme park is one of the best theme parks in the world. There are several under it's umbrella in the Yucatan peninsula region of Mexico - all with an extremely different experience to explore. But, the main theme park is a cultural eco-tourism adventure - and a the perfect place to experience Dia de los muertos.

From that trip, I came up with these notes that should help you get a better understanding of the holiday.

There’s more to it than the name.

It’s called the Day of the Dead in English. In Spanish it’s Dia de los Muertos.  It's also the same as Catholic All Soul's & All Saint’s Day. The indigenous people have combined this with their own ancient beliefs of honoring their deceased.
An exhibit of the Underworld. The ancient Mayans called Xibalba.

Don’t confuse it with Halloween.


The two holidays are from different cultures and have nothing to do with one another. Many people conflate the two because they both have traditions of dressing up in costume.

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It’s not native to all of Mexico.

The Day of the Dead Festival is a holiday celebrated in central and southern Mexico on November 1st and 2nd of each year. Though now you can participate in festivities throughout most of Mexico, especially in towns with high tourist traffic, the most authentic experience will be found in the Yucatan Peninsula.
One of the many reenactments you can experience at Xcaret. This one was at night and told about legends of the jungle.

Sugar skulls are not meant to be scary.

Because in the US we associate skulls with ghosts and nightmares, the grim reaper and scary movies, it may be a culture shock to realize that the traditional sugar skull is a way to honor the dead. In particular, many people will paint a beautiful and decorative mask in honor of a deceased relative or ancestor.
Beautiful sugar skull painted faces can be spotted everywhere. The park also had stand where you could slap on some and give it a try.

The altars may have bugs swarming.

Perhaps the most vivid tradition of honoring ancestors are the decorative and expressive altars or ofrends.Traditionally, each family home will build an altar dedicated to their deceased family members. They’ll include a photo, maybe some piece of memorabilia, gifts and their favorite food and beverages. Yup! The family will prepare their dead loved-one’s favorite meal.
Altars can be interpreted in many ways. Here's an example of one that could be for a kid.

Ghosts may come to visit.

The main reason for the altars and masks are to impress the deceased to let them know that they are missed. Should their spirit decide to visit during the celebratory days, the familiar smells of the food and images of their favorite things are to remind them that they are welcomed home.
Nearly every altar will have a candle that is lit.

Visit Xcaret for an all-inclusive experience.

You can certainly dig up places to celebrate and participate in Day of the Dead festivities from an online search. But Xcaret park, in Playa del Carmen, was recently voted the best international theme park. It is an eco-archaeological theme park- the perfect place to immerse in Mexican culture.

Explore more.

While in the Yucatan, don’t forget to take excursions to Mayan ruins, swims in the xenotes and eat local Mexican street food. Allow yourself more than the two or three days during the festival, and book an excursion to immerse in the vivid culture.

Xplor was my favorite park. Here is the underground river, where you swim and float down the water in a cave, ending with a great surprise! (I won't ruin it for you.)

This is Xcaret's newest park - Xenses - a park meant to challenge everything you thought you knew. This is in the crazy town, where what is up is down and what is right is wrong.



Have you experienced the Day of the Dead? Let us know and we'll post it here!


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