Difference Between Halloween and Day of the Dead in Mexico: Where to Celebrate It?

Halloween and Day of the Dead are two distinct celebrations that might seem similar on the surface. Mainly given their proximity in date. However, they actually hold different cultural meanings. While Halloween is widely celebrated in many parts of the world, Day of the Dead is a unique Mexican tradition with deep roots in pre-Hispanic cultures. In this article, we’ll explore the differences between these two celebrations. Additionally, a great idea for your Mexico retirement experience: When and where to live and enjoy the richness of the Day of the Dead in Mexico. Particularly in the enchanting Riviera Maya.

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What is Day of the Dead and How is it Celebrated in Mexico?

Day of the Dead – or Dia de los Muertos in Spanish – is celebrated every year on November 2nd across Mexico and other Latin American countries. The annual event is not so much about mourning the loss of loved ones, but rather a celebration of their lives. Many festivities take place during this time throughout Mexico. Amongst popular activities are giving away skull candy (there is a meaning to this, of course), making altars for the dead and spend the day with family. People in Mexico teach their children about the circle of life, making sure there is no fear of death.

Stand the test of time

Day of the Dead altar

The Day of the Dead celebrations have evolved over time. Historically, the festivity is older than Halloween itself and goes back to Mesoamerican times. Spanish conquerors thought the celebration was macabre, to say the least, but it proved to be such an important holiday that it stood the test of time. Today, the celebration engulfs three full days, marrying it with the Americanized version of Halloween.

October 31st – All Hollow’s Eve (Halloween)

November 1st – All Saint’s Day (celebration of children that have passed)

November 2nd – Day of the Dead (celebration of all that have passed)

On November 2nd, many families visit cemeteries, which are usually managed by local churches. Each family is responsible for upkeeping gravesites and bringing fresh flowers, candles or whatever else they want to set up on the grave. During Day of the Dead, many families gather around the graves, bringing the favorite food and drinks of the deceased as a way to help them follow the way back home. Mexicans believe that on this day, the gates of the underworld open to allow saints a day back with their families.


You will find many altars across Mexico celebrating old souls. Oftentimes, families hire mariachi musicians to play upbeat tunes to lighten the mood while they remember their friends and family. Across the country, many events take place. Such is the case of the Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City. Thousands of people gather dressed up as catrinas and skulls. Oh, and don’t forget the(marigold). This flower is representative of the holiday and is used in costumes, graves and altars.

Day of the Dead in the Riviera Maya

The Riviera Maya, of course, celebrates this holiday greatly. Many children get the day off school to spend the time with their families. The most popular event is the Festival of Life and Death at Xcaret. Celebrated over a span of four days, the event educates guests about the festivity, its meaning and everything that it conveys (food, drinks, family). In fact, they host a small market within Xcaret where you can see locals cooking traditional Yucatan meals. In fact, the festival is Mexican extravaganza at its finest with many dances, parades and cultural activities throughout.

Retire in Playa del Carmen

For other simpler festivities you can visit the world-famous Fifth Avenue in Playa del Carmen. Or check out Downtown Cancun to see an array of people strolling in their catrina make up and dresses. On October 31st you can also go hand out candy to children. They will come up to you excited to show off their Halloween costumes and receive candy in exchange. You can sit and relax at one of the many bars or restaurants and people-watch.

The whole Riviera Maya shines with the spirit of Day of the Dead. Decorations hang from windows, walls and stand proud on lawns. You do not want to miss this festival when visiting this paradise corner of the world. And if you really want to immerse in Mexican culture, you might think about retiring in Mexico.

Celebrating Day of the Dead and Halloween in Playa del Carmen

Halloween is around the corner, and while Mexico is big on celebrating Day of the Dead instead, locals rarely pass up an opportunity to celebrate something. So, you will be spoiled for choices on what to do during this holiday. Don’t be fooled, however. While locals will celebrate Halloween, most activities are a mix of three different holidays in the span of a four-day period. These are Halloween, Day of the Dead and Hanal Pixan. The latter is a Mayan tradition that, similar to Day of the Dead, celebrates death and afterlife. So, get your costumes and face paint ready.

Fifth Avenue

Perhaps the most popular thing to do during Halloween in Playa del Carmen is walk down the world-famous Fifth Avenue. You will see many people – mainly children – come out at around 8pm with a bag ready to collect candy. You can either participate by taking your family trick or treating on Fifth Avenue or stand there and hand out candy to the children that pass by. When the parade of candy-collecting children finishes before midnight, the adults start their own party. Oh, and don’t forget to bring your pets. Dressing them up for photo ops is a must.

Every bar and club in the area – as well as the street itself – get busy with dressed-up adults. Most bars or clubs have some sort of costume contest or dance-offs. The streets also get filled with adults carrying the party out from the clubs. While it gets quite crowded, it’s always just in good fun and you get to see how creative locals, tourists and expats can be when it comes to dressing up!

If you’re lucky, you can also catch some sort of Catrina-inspired parade. Top Mexico Real Estate started the tradition of the Catrina Fest a few years ago and the legacy has carried on with other companies and locals paying tribute to this Mexican zinc etching from 1913.

Celebrating Day of the Dead

You might also want to take a look at the different options offered that steer away from the traditional Halloween celebration. Xcaret Group offers different festivals in its parks. If you enjoy live music, an open bar and some Mexican specialties, you can go to the Catrina Party at Xoximilco. This Day of the Dead event takes place from October 2nd to November 4th at this traditionally Mexican park. You can celebrate here on the typical trajineras (boats) with tons of Mexican food and tequila drinks.

Xcaret also hosts the Festival de Vida y Muerte, which takes places from October 30th to November 2nd. The event features different dances, concerts, shows, theater, puppets, festooned altars and plenty of delicious traditional food. This festival has been happening for 12 years. It is perhaps one of the most popular events in the Riviera Maya to celebrate both Halloween and Day of the Dead.

Alternative Celebrations

Many hotels and restaurants host dinner parties for these holidays, offering more traditionally-driven dishes. However, if you’re looking for real class you might want to check out The Thompson Hotel’s 5-course dinner. The meal includes wine pairing and is a concoction by acclaimed chefs Daniel Nates, Pedro Abascal and Dani Manzano.

Another alternative is taking a tour to a Mayan village to celebrate Hanal Pixan. This tour provides a closer and more authentic look at the culture of death and afterlife. You can participate in such tours on the date of the celebration (November 2nd). You will engage in traditional Mayan culture which also helps preserve the environment and the local economy of the visited village.

Whichever way you decide to celebrate is up to you. But we can assure you that the mix of American, Mexican and traditional Mayan cultures will fascinate you.

Mexican Holidays and Traditions: Everything You Need to Know to Celebrate

Whether you’re living full-time or part-time in Mexico, engaging in its many traditions is a great way to get to know the culture. Many people recognize Mexico for its beautiful white-sand beaches and picturesque Caribbean Sea. But there is much more than just that. The culture in Mexico is like no other. Its gastronomy is diverse and delicious. Unsurprisingly, UNESCO declared it a World Heritage. You will be enriched in the heritage and the Mexican holidays and traditions, regardless of where you decide to spend your retirement. Here are the most popular Mexican holidays to celebrate throughout the year.

Mexico Independence Day

Mexico Independence Day

While many confuse it with Cinco de Mayo, Mexican Independence Day is actually celebrated on September 16th. They became independent from Spanish governance in 1810, now marking 208 years of freedom. This is one of the largest celebrated Mexican holidays throughout Mexico, comparable to July 1st in Canada or July 4th in the United States. During this time, you will see Mexicans proudly wearing the colors of their country: red, white and green. The celebrations include parades, fireworks and dances in many cities. At home, locals prepare an array of traditional dishes such as pozole and chiles en nogada, which are the trademark foods for the holiday.

At 11pm, the President comes out to the balcony at Mexico City’s National Palace to give the Grito de Dolores. Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla gave this famous speech at the town of Dolores in the early morning of September 16th, 1810. This marked the beginning of the fight for independence. The President repeats the speech each year, while Mexicans cry back “viva” after celebrating famous names that brought the independence to Mexico. At the end, he yells “Viva Mexico” three times, ringing the bell, marking the beginning of the celebration. The Municipal Presidents of major city squares replicate this tradition, as well.

Day of the Dead

Day of the Dead shrine

This is perhaps one of the most widely known Mexican holidays across the world. Mexicans do not grieve death like other countries do. In fact, death becomes a celebration of someone’s life and is very colorful. Day of the Dead takes place on November 1st and 2nd. Locals celebrate Dia de los Inocentes (Day of the Innocents) on the 1st, which celebrates the life of children who have passed. The second day is Dia de los Difuntos (Day of the Dead), which celebrates adults.

The holiday celebrates all loved ones who have passed by visiting them at the cemeteries with the whole family bringing them offerings of their favorite stuff in life. The central piece is the pan de muerto (day of the dead bread), which is a bread that resembles a bone structure. Sugar skulls are also a popular snack. Mexicans put up shrines throughout the house and office with pictures of the lost ones and their favorite foods and drinks. Mexicans widely believe that during these two days the dead are allowed back into the living world. They get to spend time with their family, but only those whose family set up a shrine with their photograph.

Christmas and Posadas

Christmas piñata

While Christmas is a world-wide holiday, Mexicans have a unique take on it. Mexico is a very Catholic country, and so they do the traditional posada fiesta. Posada means inn or lodging in Spanish; however, during the nine days leading up to Christmas, they become a celebration of the biblical story of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem. Families and friends get together to reenact the journey. The family divides itself in two, one staying inside the house and the other outside. The people outside represent Mary and Joseph on their journey, while the ones inside are the ones who will allow them to stay the night so Mary can give birth to Jesus.

There is a lot of caroling and other rituals that take place. While not many people today actually celebrate Catholicism, it has become a trademark tradition that will never disappear. The posada is not only centered on the journey, but on spending time with loved ones. Matriarchs make plenty of food and drinks to go around. They bring out the piñata later to take a swing at. You will find star-shaped piñatas with seven points, representing the seven deadly sins. By breaking it, you are symbolically breaking free from sinning. People fill the piñatas traditionally with fruits such as sugar canes, oranges, jicama, and others. However, today, people put their own spin to it by adding candies and other things.

The Posadas and Christmas time in Mexico are a true celebration of the culture. You should definitely witness it in all its glory and learn about the comradery that is born from this tradition. This is definitely one of the most celebrated Mexican holidays.

Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo dance

The first thing to do is open with a disclaimer. Cinco de Mayo is not actually a nation-wide celebration, and it is, by no means, Mexico’s Independence Day. In 1862, Mexico was under French governance. Mexican troops defeated one of the largest French armies at the time, during the battle of Puebla, on May 5th. While Mexico lost the war, the battle spread a sense of much needed pride throughout Mexico.

Funnily enough, the quick outpouring of celebrations didn’t start in Mexico itself, but in the United States. When Mexican-Americans received word of the small victory, they fired their guns into the air and celebrated their Mexican heritage. However, the state of Puebla does celebrate Cinco de Mayo every year. Locals even get the day off from school and work. Years later, in the mid-1900s, Corona Beer was looking to enter the American market and launched the Drinko the Mayo campaign. This brought the holiday back into the eye of many people, who started celebrating it since.

Mariachi Music


If you have been to Mexico, you are probably aware of what Mariachis are. These musicians are everywhere throughout Mexico. They liven up family reunions, restaurant dinners, weddings, and other celebrations with their traditional Mariachi music. You will recognize Mariachis due to their studded attires and large hats. The tradition dates back to the 18th century and, since 2011, the musical expression is a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.

With so many lively and colorful traditions, Mexico is a great place to live at year-round. Almost every month there is a celebration taking place. When there isn’t something marked in the official calendar, you can trust Mexicans to make an excuse to celebrate something. If you want to experience these Mexican holidays and cultural traditions with locals and in their true expression, it’s time to start considering retirement in Mexico. Take a look at all our properties in Playa del Carmen and the Riviera Maya.

And remember, at Top Mexico Real Estate…we make it happen!

Day Of The Dead In Mexico

Day of the dead is a big holiday we celebrate in Mexico. Some people even celebrate it in different countries all over the world. The day of the dead is exactly how it sounds. Mexicans take a day to remember all their loved ones that have past away. This particular day of course is important everyday but, here in Mexico people like to denote one day out of all the other days to be extra special. There are many different festivities that go on in Mexico too during the day of the dead. This ritual has been going on for thousands of years already.

Frances Ann Day puts this three day celebration of the day of the dead into perspective:

On October 31, All Hallows Eve, the children make a children’s altar to invite the angelitos (spirits of dead children) to come back for a visit. November 1 is All Saints Day, and the adult spirits will come to visit. November 2 is All Souls Day, when families go to the cemetery to decorate the graves and tombs of their relatives. The three-day fiesta is filled with marigolds, the flowers of the dead; muertos (the bread of the dead); sugar skulls; cardboard skeletons; tissue paper decorations; fruit and nuts; incense, and other traditional foods and decorations.”

The day of the dead is actually a happy day here in Mexico. As a matter of fact, Mexicans celebrate all the fun events they had with their past ancestors and people they are remembering on this day. Many people bring their favorite food and beverages to the cemetery and say prayers. This helps to speak with the souls of the dead. They also drop of flowers and photographs and anything that helps represent their life. Most people on this day go to the gravesites and clean around their graves. Moreover, some people even spend the night next to their loved ones grave or have a picnic beside it.

Ofrendas to the death

In addition, Mexicans also prepare an ofrenda, which is an altar they dedicate to the person they are remembering. They decorate this altars with traditional food, candies, candles and more. In Mexico, ofrendas are so important and meaningful that there are even contests. Basically, people dedicate to decorate an altar with objects that symbolizes a person. The result is actually amazing and ofrendas are really beautiful.

Also, public schools and different government offices prepare different arts and crafts on this day. This day is a big day in Mexico and it should not go without some sort of applause to your deceased. Some locations around Mexico even dress up and deceased or they wear seashells on their clothes, because they believe they will wake up the dead. Each person has his or her own way to celebrate this day and it is a neat holiday to be in Mexico for!

Day of the Dead: sharing in honor of those gone

Mexican culture is colorful, lively and very unique. It doesn’t matter how grim or sad a holiday may seem, Mexicans will find a way of making it come to life– literally and metaphorically – in ways only their imagination allows. Day of the Dead is no exception to this, as the holiday is celebrated throughout the country. Although it sounds as if it should be a day of sadness, it is in fact a joyous day. It´s filled with music, food, friends, family, and remembering those who have gone.

A lot of time is invested in this November holiday as it features elaborate make up of catrinas, setting up altars, baking delicious meals, decorating with cempasuchil flowers, and dressing up the graves at the cemeteries,  The holiday is celebrated on November 1st and 2nd, the first being dedicated to remembering children and infants and the latter for honoring the deceased adults. However, with the integration of Halloween the celebrations tend to start a few days earlier in certain parts of the country.

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The holiday is meant for those who have gone, so there is no indulging in what you like but rather in what they enjoyed. Altars are set up with a photo of the deceased person and decorated with cempasuchil flowers, while the deceased’s favorite food and drinks are placed on it as an offering. It is believed that on this day the dead come back to the world of the living to spend time with their loved ones. For this reason, all of their favorite things are placed on the altar to welcome them back.

Graveyards are a special place during this time of year, but visits to the graves are not as you would imagine. Instead, you will find families gathering around the tombs of their loved ones with flowers, offerings and even picnics. Throughout the night they will share their favorite stories of the person they are honoring and remember them. Mariachis are often found roaming throughout the graves singing the deceased’s favorite songs and bringing the cemeteries – quite literally- to life.

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Of course, with every holiday comes tales and legends, and this is also the case with the Day of the Dead. Some believe that not creating an altar for a deceased family member can have deathly consequences. According to legend, or as it is known in Spanish las malas lenguas, if a spirit comes back to see it has been forgotten they can be angered. This is especially true if they see the big and elaborate altars left for other spirits. Those who forget it will be struck with illness and maybe even become dead soon after. Some people celebrate the holiday out of fear rather than tradition, love and commitment. But hey, these are just stories.

And let’s not forget about food! Day of the Dead is full of some delicious treats such as pan de muerto and sugar skulls. It is tradition to buy sugar skulls with the name of a person and offer it as a gift to friends and family members. These skulls are usually decorated with catrina-like make up and have a sticker on the forehead with a name. The sugar skull is given as a gift. This is not to mean that you are suggesting death to the person you give it to, but rather as a statement of love. It says that if they were ever to be gone you would remember them on this day.

The other traditional food is the pan de muerto, which is a bun with decorations that resemble bones on top. It is a traditional sweet roll baked throughout the country and shared by family members by the grave or at home.

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Throughout the country you will find parades, parties, festivities and many things to celebrate this amazing tradition that has been around for centuries. Foreigners are welcomed with open arms to join the celebrations as Mexican culture dictates that teaching and sharing traditions with outsiders is good. Ask around your community and join the many events throughout. There is often theater, music, parks, pub-crawls and more.

Now you know how this beautiful tradition is celebrated and what to expect, so get out there and be a part of it. Nobody says that only Mexican souls come back. Erect an altar for your loved ones who have gone and they will surely appreciate it.

 photo 10384583_10152548898892648_7336645153002255580_n_zpsgg4qaw2z.jpgDo you want to be a part of this festive and lively culture that we all admire? Then maybe it’s time to consider moving to Mexico. Top Mexico Real Estate caters to American and Canadian expats looking for a forever home in Mexico. Browse through our thousands of properties and get in touch with one of our Top Buyer Representatives who will guide you through the process of becoming a homeowner in paradise.

And remember, here at Top Mexico Real Estate…

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In Uruapan, Michoacan, Bright and Lively Festivals Are Celebrated All Year

This is a guest post from John Glaab, an real estate expert in La Paz and in Mexico’s international connections.  He also has strong interest in the city of Morelia in central Mexico.

All year long there are festivals occurring in Uruapan, near Morelia. The two most noteworthy and that fill the hotels are; Noche de Muertos (Night of the Dead) and Semana Santa (Holy Week). The first is November 1 and the second is Holy Week which includes Palm Sunday and Easter.


Michoacan is the center of the part pagan, part Christian celebration of Noche de Muertos (Night of the Dead). Tzintzuntzin the capital of the Tarascan empire is especially important, but Ofrendas (altars) are also abundant in the streets of Patzcuaro and Uruapan. For the past three years, Uruapan has also had a celebration of velas. (candles) More than 10,000 candles adorn the Centro Historica and the main plaza.


During Semana Santa, the artisans fill the four block long plaza in Uruapan. This year more than 1,200 came to display and sell their work. Representing 73 communities, the artisans came with 1 million pieces. These ranged from copper works of art (Santa Clara del Cobre) to fine guitars. (Paracho)


There were two parades during the week. One the parade of the artesanos and the other the parade of the aguadores. (Water carriers) The later in rational costume carried water from the Rio Cupatitzio, to the Inmaculada church for blessing. Of course both had musical groups in the processions.


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-by John Glaab


Awa Condos Playa del Carmen

Top 5 Places to Experience the Day of the Dead

by Bea Lozano

Currently, Mexico is celebrating its Day of the Dead, as I pointed out a couple of days ago (see It’s Time to Celebrate … Death?!)  A couple things must be noted.  As I mentioned on Tuesday, this celebration has traditions very distinct from Halloween, and it is very rich in cultural, historical and personal significance.  It also carries on for several days – normally the night of Oct 31 till the day of Nov. 2, but in Playa del Carmen celebrations started as early as Oct. 29.  The event is a very strong intertwining of family and communal celebrations, and focuses on remembering family and friends who have passed away.  There are a number of celebrations and exhibitions that allow everyone and anyone to participate.

Among numerous options, the following are the top 5 places to experience the Day of the Dead in Playa del Carmen.

Living in Playa del Carmen1. Xcaret

This is a cultural theme park just south of Playa del Carmen.  There celebrations, shows and exhibitions for the Day of the Dead are the best known in the area, and for a good reason; this is the full package.  The festivities go on for four days (Oct 30 to Nov. 2) and include concerts, dance shows, displays of traditional altars and an imitation cemetery with traditional decoration.  Keeping in touch with both sides of the cultural roots for the Day of the Dead celebrations, the park offers 4 daily Temazcals, which are similar to saunas but include a full Mayan ritual one hour long, and a Mexican Mass for All Saints Day (Nov. 1).

Living in Playa del Carmen

2. Fifth Avenue

Playa del Carmen’s famous downtown tourist strip, Fifth Avenue, is home to an annual parade (October 29 – already passed!) and some displays and decorations along Calle Corazon, a picturesque little alley way running at a diagonal off the main street.

Living in Playa del Carmen

3. A Real Mayan Village

What would be a better way to discover the rich Day of the Dead celebrations of the Mayan people (Hanal Pixan) than go right to a real Mayan village?  Fortunately, there are tours set up that will take you to such a Mayan Village where you can experience these rich traditions directly where they were born.  On Nov. 2 at 5 pm the tour leaves from Centro Maya mall; tickets are available from www.alltournative.com. (In a separate event, there is also a competition for altars in the mall at 5:30 pm.  Unfortunately, you can’t go to both!)

4. La Ceiba Park

Living in Playa del CarmenThis beautiful little park is just across the highway from downtown and, besides being a relaxing place to spend an afternoon walking around or sipping a coffee, it serves as a center for events and culture for both locals and many expats. The park is largely supported by Xcaret and offers an extension of that park’s activities, with events running on Nov. 3 and 4th.  These include theater, photography displays and workshops for face painting and funeral masks – all with Day of the Dead themes, of course.

Living in Playa del Carmen5. Fundadores Park

This park is located directly on the beachfront, in the very heart of downtown, where Fifth Avenue meets Juarez Ave., close to where Fifth begins at the outdoor plaza called Paseo del Carmen.  On Oct. 31, there was a competition for Day of the Dead altars, open to anyone between the ages of 15 and 25, and open for viewing to all!  The variety and creativity of these altars is incredible!

In addition, there will be private altars in various places, and many Mexicans will set these up in their homes.  Finally, many of the bars and clubs will have Halloween-style parties with a Mexican twist to them which are always fun, even if they don’t have much to do with the holiday itself!

The Day of the Dead can be a deeply personal celebration for Mexicans.  It is often very communal as well. As Tom has mentioned before, Mexicans are very open to welcoming all to participate in such celebrations; don’t just watch, be sure to find a place and actually participate in and experience this rich cultural holiday!

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