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Experiencing Day of the Dead in Guadalajara

Experiencing Day of the Dead in Guadalajara

Experiencing Day of the Dead (or Dia de los Muertos, as it’s locally known) in Mexico was truly an incredible experience. The streets of Guadalajara, and particularly in the neighborhood of Tlaquepaque, were filled with intricate altars heaped with marigolds and candles, colorful papel flags strung over the cobblestone streets and beautifully painted catrinas of all ages.

Day of the Dead festivities in Tlaquepaque, Guadalajara

A fusing of ancient Aztec festivities and colonizing Catholics’ All Saints Day traditions, Day of the Dead is a way to honor ancestors. However, one of the things that struck me most was the way that the holiday approaches death: although it’s not a celebration per say, it’s emblematic of the warm, colorful and upbeat Mexican culture as a whole. The altars that are constructed on the streets often have photos of the deceased or things that they would have loved: it’s thought that they’re able to come back and celebrate with the living on these days. When families go to the cemetery to pay their respects, they’ll often bring a picnic and hire a mariachi band: it’s less about a grave, solemn occasion and more about celebrating the legacy they left behind. And instead of mourning alone or in silence, people pour onto the streets, into family homes and into cemeteries to spend quality time with the living.

Day of the Dead festivities in Tlaquepaque, GuadalajaraDay of the Dead festivities in Tlaquepaque, Guadalajara

My favorite fact about the bright orange marigolds that cover every altar: marigolds are there not only because they represent the fragility of life, but their vibrant color was thought to help lead the dead to find their altar. The altars also often feature photos of the dead, some of the things they enjoyed most while they were living (perhaps a book, or a bottle of their preferred poison), and sugar skulls. Processed with VSCO with f2 preset Processed with VSCO with f2 preset Processed with VSCO with f2 preset Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Another really fun thing we stumbled across were these paper-mâché catrinas on Avenida Chapultepec. They were all created by local elementary schools to be displayed on this tree-lined pedestrian avenue. The thought, creativity and work that went into all of them were seriously impressive! Day of the Dead festivities in Tlaquepaque, GuadalajaraDay of the Dead festivities in Tlaquepaque, GuadalajaraDay of the Dead festivities in Tlaquepaque, GuadalajaraDay of the Dead festivities in Tlaquepaque, Guadalajara

We spent the afternoon on the Day of the Dead–a national holiday!–in Tlaquepaque, a colorful neighborhood that seemed to be the epicenter of festivities. The streets were jam-packed with people and market stalls, and it just got busier as the night went on. The whole vibe was incredibly upbeat and fun! I got nervous for a second about being in such a large crowd–I try to avoid them in general, and perhaps even more so in light of all of the recent gun violence in the USA–but all I witnessed were friendly people and lots of families.Day of the Dead festivities in Tlaquepaque, GuadalajaraDay of the Dead festivities in Tlaquepaque, Guadalajara Day of the Dead festivities in Tlaquepaque, Guadalajara

There is a parade of catrinas every year, and this year, the theme was catrina brides. The people selected to be in the parade did not miss a beat: all of their face painting, outfits and head dresses were absolutely show-stopping!

The catrina itself has layers of cultural significance, but my main takeaway is that the painting of the skull on the face is meant to represent both the great neutralizing force of death (the rich and the beautiful die too), as well as an emphasis on inner beauty and how it’s displayed. Day of the Dead festivities in Tlaquepaque, GuadalajaraDay of the Dead festivities in Tlaquepaque, Guadalajara

There was even a parade of mini catrinas! I am still swooning over the gorgeous little girl with her total hipster dad, and this incredible skirt made of real marigolds.   Day of the Dead festivities in Tlaquepaque, Guadalajara Day of the Dead festivities in Tlaquepaque, Guadalajara  Day of the Dead festivities in Tlaquepaque, GuadalajaraDay of the Dead festivities in Tlaquepaque, Guadalajara

I was just so amazed at all of the “regular” people who went out in full force and with such creativity for this holiday: some of the face painting and outfits were so, so, so good. Obviously, the couple with the skeleton dog was my favorite (!) but I was swooning over just about every person I saw. Day of the Dead festivities in Tlaquepaque, Guadalajara

Honestly, my face paint was not great in the grand scheme of things–but it only cost a few dollars and it was so fun to feel like I was part of the whole scene! The streets of Tlaquepaque were lined with people doing the catrina face paint, and it was tough as an outsider to a) know who was amazing, b) not have to wait in a crazy line for the best ones, c) communicate in my very, very limited Spanish what I wanted and d) have the confidence to really express what I wanted in Spanish. I decided I would rather wander the streets and people-watch than obsess over getting the perfect face paint, and alas, this is what I ended up with. Lesson learned! Day of the Dead festivities in Tlaquepaque, Guadalajara

Have you ever experienced Day of the Dead in Mexico? Do you have any other favorite local festivals around the world?  

p.s. don’t miss my favorite things in Guadalajara

  • SUPIslandStyle

    Looks amazing. We were in Guatemala for Dia de los Muertos and they celebrate with a giant kite festival, which had the same celebratory vibes. Was so awesome to see a festival where its central focus is families celebrating.

  • Julie

    I think one of my coolest and most memorable travel experiences was witnessing the Dia de los Muertos celebrations at the orphanage I was working at. The teens made the most amazing ofrendas which was all the more significant due to them not being with their families.

    You saw some spectacular attired people, Guadalajara looks like a great spot to be for it. I also love the pic of the little girl with the marigold skirt.

    And even though I am as gringa as they come, I love everything about the meaning and significance of this holiday. And I love calaveras-I have a large collection of figurines (my wedding cake topper was even of a calavera bride and groom). What I collect 🙂

    P.S. I think your makeup is quite good!

  • Brandy

    Looks like an amazing experience! I’d love to experience Day of the Dead in Mexico sometime – Guadalajara looks like a great place to do it.

  • camorose

    Oh how fun! Going to a kite or hot air balloon festival is totally on my list–I feel like it’d be so much fun and so beautiful to see!

  • camorose

    Yes! The marigold skirt was 100% my favorite too–so much time and thought into that. The celebrations at the orphanage must have been incredible–what an experience to be part of. My makeup wasn’t toooooo bad but in comparison with some of the serious faces I saw–I wish I had been able to express myself more clearly in Spanish! That said, it was cheap and it was still so fun to be a part of the celebrations!

  • camorose

    Yes! Highly recommend–it was an incredible experience!

  • The first time I went to Mexico I planned my trip around the Day of the Dead but then those dates didn’t work for my friend who was coming with me so we rescheduled the trip – and then she ended up not coming with me! Your colorful photos have reminded me of that, and I need to put this on the MUST DO list, not the ONE DAY list. I’d never thought of Guadalajara but this looks like a great option!

  • camorose

    Yes! I’d always wanted to experience Day of the Dead too and now that I’ve done it–I recommend it even more! Guadalajara was incredible in many ways but it also felt like such an authentic place to experience Day of the Dead.

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