Welcome Guest [create an account] or log-in:

Chapter 23 Dia de los Muertos and its Representation of Calaveras

DOI: 10.23912/978-1-910158-55-5-2997

ISBN: 978-1-910158-55-5

Published: February 2016

Component type: chapter

Published in: Focus on World Festivals

Parent DOI: 10.23912/978-1-910158-55-5-2822



The word death is not pronounced in New York, Paris or London, because it burns the lips. The Mexican, by contrast, is familiar with death, jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it... it is one of his most favourite toys and his most steadfast love. True, there is perhaps as much fear in his attitude as in that of others, but at least death is not hidden away... (Paz, 1967, in Sayer, 2009: 105) While every country has its own festivals and celebrations, each deeply rooted in the country’s culture, none does so more vibrantly than Mexico’s festival of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), which dates back to the Aztec belief in life as part of the wider cycle of existence (Weiss, 2010). Celebrated on All Saints’ and All Souls’ days at the start of November, Mexico’s festival is significantly different from other countries’ celebrations, such as the perhaps more familiar Westernised, secular celebration of Halloween. Although festivities vary from region to region across Mexico, it seems that remembrance remains central to the festival, during which the living “honour the souls of the departed with gifts of food and flowers” (Sayer, 2009: 12). Far from being a sombre affair, Dia de los Muertos is a time for celebration mixing Spanish Catholic traditions with ancient Aztec rituals, it is “quite the reverse of morbid; it is a period full of life, colour and festival” (Carmichael and Sayer, 1991: 7). By contrast, Western Catholic countries continue to honour more traditional practice of All Saints’ Day, a national holiday in many Catholic countries, including Spain, where Todos los Santos remains as one of the country’s most celebrated religious festivals and All Souls’ Day, on which ancient customs of decorating graves and praying for the dead are still observed (Catholic Culture, 2015).

Sample content

Click here to download PDF


  • Emily Bradfield (Author)

For the source title:

  • Chris Newbold, De Montfort University (Editor)
  • Jennie Jordan, De Montfort University (Editor)

Cite as

Bradfield, 2016

Bradfield, E. (2016) "Chapter 23 Dia de los Muertos and its Representation of Calaveras" In: Newbold, C. & Jordan, J. (ed) . Oxford: Goodfellow Publishers http://dx.doi.org/10.23912/978-1-910158-55-5-2997


Ades, D., McClean-Cameron, A., Campbell, L. and McDonald, M. (2009). Revolution on paper, Austin: University of Texas Press.

American Museum of Ceramic Art (2014). La Catrina: Tribute to Jose Posada - American Museum of Ceramic Art. Available at: http://www.amoca.org/la-catrina, accessed 15 Feb. 2015.

Baker, C. (1996) Gallery of Modern Art Glasgow - The First Years, London: Scala Books.

Carmicahel, E. and Sayer, C, (1991) The Skeleton at the Feast. The Day of the Dead in Mexico, London: British Museum Press.

Catholic Culture (2015) Catholic Recipe: Panes de Muertos. Available from: http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/liturgicalyear/recipes/view.cfm?id=1380&repos=3&subrepos= 4&searchid=1507042, accessed 06 March 2015.

Congdon, K., and Hallmark, K. (2002) Artists from Latin American Cultures: A Biographical Dictionary, London: Greenwood.

Dowling, F. (2011) The Book of Skulls, London: Laurence King Publishing.

Galguera, H. (2012). Sugar skulls and sacrifice: Damien Hirst and Mexico's death culture in pictures. Guardian. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2012/apr/19/damien-hirst-mexico-death-in-pictures, accessed 19 Apr. 2015.

Geoffroy-Schneiter, B. and Wharry, D. (2006) Primal arts, New York: Assouline.

Hirst, D. (2012) TateShots: Damien Hirst, For the Love of God. [video] London: Tate. Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/video/tateshots-damien-hirst-love-god, accessed 19 Apr. 2015.

Hirst, D., Fuchs, R., and Beard, J. (2007). For the Love of God, London: Other Criteria/White Cube.

Holloway, A. (2014) Turning of the bones and the Madagascar dance with the dead. Available from: http://www.ancient-origins.net/ancient-places-africa/turning-bones-and-madagascar-dance-dead-001346, accessed 06 March 2015.

Kasprzak, E. (2012) Day of the Dead: From Mexico City to London Town. BBC News. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk, accessed 11 February 2015.

McDonald, C. (2013) 10 Festivals that honor the dead. Listverse, 19th Jan. [weblog] Available from: http://listverse.com/2013/01/19/10-festivals-that-honor-the-dead/, accessed 07 March 2015.

Metcalf, P. and Huntingdon, R. (1991) Celebrations of Death. The Anthropology of Murtuary Ritual, 2nd edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Notman, A. (2013) Dia de los Muertos: Behind the misunderstood and misappropriated Mexican holiday. Available from: http://www.eugeneweekly.com/20131017/lead-story/dia-de-los-muertos, accessed 15 February 2015.

Paz, O. (1967) The Labyrinth of Solitude: A dramatic Portrait of the Mexican Mind, trans. London: Lysander Kemp, Penguin Press.

Ranscombe, S. (2015) Bond make-up artist Naomi Donne on making up 1,500 SPECTRE extras, The Telegraph, 7 October. Available from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/beauty/make-up/bond-spectre-make-up-artist-naomi-donne/, accessed 23 October 2015

Reuters (2007) FACTBOX: The Day of the Dead's global spread. Available from: http://www.reuters.com/article/2007/11/01/us-dayofdead-idUSN0142516020071101, accessed 15 February 2015.

Rogers, N. (2002) Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Rotherstein, J. (1989) Posada: Messenger of Mortality, London: Redstone Press.

Sayer, C. (2009) Fiesta: Days of the dead and other Mexican festivals, London: British Museum Press, London.

Spanish Fiestas (2015) All Saints Days Spain. Dia de Todos los Santos. Available from: http://www.spanish-fiestas.com/festivals/all-saints-days/, accessed 06 March 2015.

Tate (2012) TateShots: Damien Hirst, For the Love of God. Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/video/tateshots-damien-hirst-love-god, accessed 19 Apr. 2015.

Tuckman, J. (2005). The bell tolls for Hirst's tried and tested work. Guardian. [online] Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2005/oct/24/artsnews.mexico, accessed 19/03/15.

Velaquez, L. (2011) When the Souls Arrive: Reclaiming the dead. [video] Available at: http://www.d-aep.org/portfolio/when-the-souls-arrive-reclaiming-the-dead/, accessed 2 May 2015.

Weiss, A. (2010) Why Mexicans celebrate the Day of the Dead, The Guardian, 2nd Nov. Available from: http://www.theguardian.com, accessed 11 February 2015.


Published in Focus on World Festivals

Hardback format [Details]Price: €115.00Copies / Delivery by post
Terms and conditions of purchase | Privacy policy