Much like the fun-filled traditions associated with Halloween in the United States, Mexico embraces the somber autumn holiday with a variety of celebrations and activities. Known throughout Latin America as El Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), Cancun offers visitors a truly unique version on this popular holiday, with many events incorporating both Mayan customs and modern Mexican traditions. Beginning on October 31 with celebrations for the returned souls of the departed…
Much like the fun-filled traditions associated with Halloween in the United States, Mexico embraces the somber autumn holiday with a variety of celebrations and activities. Known throughout Latin America as El Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), Cancun offers visitors a truly unique version on this popular holiday, with many events incorporating both Mayan customs and modern Mexican traditions. Beginning on October 31 with celebrations for the returned souls of the departed, the party continues each year until November 2.
As Cancun is in the center of the historic region known as the Mayan Riviera, many of the city’s events incorporate Hanal Pixan – the Mayan ritual of the dead. Both in Cancun and at most of the Mayan sites outside the city, candlelight prayer services are held on October 31 to commemorate the deceased. After this period of reflection, Hanal Pixan quickly transforms into a friendly meal shared by hundreds. Tamales are often baked in an underground pit and served to both the living and the dead, as it is believed that the deceased absorb the essence of the food placed at their graves. Handmade wines and candies are also passed around for all to enjoy, but Hanal Pixan marks only the beginning of this amazing holiday.
October 31 is also marks the beginning of a three day culinary feast in Cancun, taking place both in the streets and all the best restaurants. At the city’s gastronomy festival, visitors can sample local delicacies and gourmet international cuisine prepared by Mexico’s best chefs. Held outdoors along the Caribbean waterfront, this festival is anything but a sober Day of the Dead ritual, as guests are invited to eat and drink as much as they like. If you dine in any of Cancun’s restaurants throughout the three day holiday, you will be treated special local recipes reserved for Day of the Dead. At night, many visitors move from the restaurants to the bars and dance clubs where special events such as costume parties have become the norm.
One of the most fascinating traditions associated with the Day of the Dead is the creation of colorful altars – known in Mexico as ofrendas – to honor deceased loved ones. Anywhere you travel in the city, you will pass numerous altars containing all kinds of offerings. Set on tables with white cloth, the altars of Cancun display everything from fresh flowers and chocolate skulls to wooden crosses, personal mementos and photographs. Though the tradition of honoring the deceased might seem solemn, the positive atmosphere of the holiday extends to these personalized displays, as awards are handed out for the most elaborate and beautifully decorated altars.
The newest Day of the Dead activity for Cancun’s visitors takes place south of the city in the Xcaret Nature and Cultural Park. Last year, the park unveiled The Bridge to Paradise – one of the world’s most unique cemeteries. Composed of 365 lavish gravesites created by local artists, The Bridge to Paradise serves as a creative representation of Mexican history and culture. For instance, a colorful sculpture of a bed complete with linens references the country’s dreamlike mythology, while a miniature replica of a cathedral reminds visitors of Mexico’s religious culture. During the celebrations surrounding the Day of the Dead, visitors are served candies and other refreshments from altars set up throughout the cemetery. Much like the celebrations in Cancun, the events at Xcaret and its cemetery rejoice in life and the cultural traditions of Mexico on this seemingly dark day.
Much like the American tradition of Halloween, children are encouraged to don costumes and trick-or-treat during the celebrations of Day of the Dead. However, Mexican myth and tradition contribute some interesting items to the children’s experience. As most trick-or-treating takes place of November 2 – the day when, as myth has it, spirits must leave the homes of their loved ones and return to the other side – all children wear bracelets of red string to ward off the more nefarious spirits traveling to the underworld. As with all the other events surrounding Day of the Dead, visitors are encouraged to participate in the local traditions.
Furthermore, as the holiday takes place just weeks before the beginning of the peak travel season, Day of the Dead may be one of the best times to visit Cancun. Many airlines and resorts will feature special rates during this week, making travel to this luxurious destination affordable for any family.
Though Day of the Dead is celebrated throughout Latin America, few destinations observe the holiday as colorfully as Cancun. If you want to experience one of the region’s most treasured holidays, visit the city where modern luxury and Mayan tradition meet to create an unforgettable vacation.
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