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Celebrating Day of the Dead Around the World

Day of the Dead (also known as el Día de los Muertos) is a Mexican holiday that’s celebrated every year between October 31st and November 2nd. According to tradition, at midnight on October 31st, the gates of heaven are opened for children to return to their families and celebrate for 24 hours. The spirits of the adults do the same at midnight on November 1st. It’s a time where families celebrate their deceased relatives, as they welcome back their souls for a reunion that’s centered around their favorite foods, drinks, and their love for one another.

To learn more about this honorary tradition, here’s a brief guide to Day of the Dead around the world.

Day of the Dead

The Origins of Day of the Dead

Day of the Dead traditions go back about 3,000 years, when the Nahua people (i.e., the Aztecs) viewed death as an important part of life. They believed that, upon passing, people traveled to a place called the Land of the Dead, or Chicunamictlán.

In order to reach their final resting place (Mictlán), they had to overcome nine different levels or challenges, which often took several years. To help their loved ones reach Mictlán, another celebration was held mid-year. Families put out food, water, and some essential tools to help guide their loved ones through their journey.

This ritual is now part of the contemporary Day of the Dead celebrations where families lead offerings such as food and gifts on the graves of their loved ones or ofrendas, a type of altar in their home. Contrary to what many people believe, the traditional celebrations of El Día de los Muertos is not a Mexican take on Halloween. Although they share a common date (October 31st), the origins of Day of the Dead revolve around celebrating the deceased’s return to the living world, if only for a short while. However, the symbols used to celebrate Day of the Dead do include skeletons (calacas) and skulls (calaveras), which are also commonly used during Halloween.

How Day of the Dead Differs Around the World

Although many people associate Day of the Dead with Mexico, there are actually several countries throughout the world that celebrate. If you’re looking to connect with another person who celebrates Day of the Dead during your language journey, download Tandem today. You can share differences, similarities, and family traditions while still practicing your language skills! In the meantime, check out the different celebrations for Day of the Dead held by various countries around the world.


Guatemala also holds its own traditions for Day of the Dead, which they refer to as Festival de Barriletes Gigantes. This translates to “The Festival of Giant Kites,” and is a way to honor their dead in a unique way. Just as it sounds, families will gather together and fly extremely large and exquisite kites as a way of communicating with their deceased loved ones and demonstrating their love.


In Ecuador, their version of Day of the Dead is known as El Día de los Difuntos, which means “The Day of the Deceased.” This day is only celebrated on November 2nd, but is centered around the same ideas and traditions. Families gather to celebrate deceased relatives and enjoy food and pastries together.


Haiti’s version of Day of the Dead centers around honoring the Voodoo spirit that’s related to death and family. It’s held on November 1st and 2nd each year, where dancing and singing are accompanied by traditional rituals and feasts as a way to honor their deceased loved ones.

El Salvador

Another Latin American country that celebrates Day of the Dead is El Salvador. Their version of this holiday is called La Calabiuza, which takes place in early November. Similar to Mexico’s traditions, many locals dress up like skeletons, dance through the city (some even carrying torches). However, these days, the celebrations of La Calabiuza are more commonly used to honor indigenous culture and reject the ongoing influence of Spanish colonization.


The people in the Philippines have a very similar way of celebrating their version of Mexico’s Day of the Dead. However, theirs is referred to as Undás, which is also known as All Saint’s Day or All Souls’ Day. The core of their celebrations is family and remembrance of the relatives who have passed away.


Although not exactly the same, the Hindu festival known as Mahalaya is a time where the Indian people come together to connect with their ancestors through prayer. The underlying beliefs seem to be similar to Day of the Dead, but Mahalaya is seen as a purely religious holiday instead of a time for celebrations.

Other countries may also celebrate Day of the Dead in their own way. In the United States, several cities hold their own parades and other celebrations as a way to honor the traditions of the Mexican population that resides there. Spain’s Todos Los Santos holiday is more religious based and focused on attending church and visiting loved ones in the cemeteries. Ireland even holds a similar festival known as Samhain, which was a Celtic holiday with similarities to both Halloween and Day of the Dead.

If you want to learn more about Day of the Dead, consider speaking with someone who actively celebrates. Tandem is a great place to connect with individuals who celebrate while improving your fluency at the same time.

All you need to do is download the app, match with a native speaker of your preferred language, and start talking. Who knows, you may even be invited to celebrate Day of the Dead with them next year!

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