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A Quintessential Mexican Holiday: Day of the Dead

Oct 20, 2022

While Halloween is a cherished and much-anticipated holiday in the U.S., where kids dress in costume and trick-or-treat from door to door, in Mexico the main autumnal celebration is Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos).

A uniquely Mexican holiday that originated long ago in several pre-Hispanic cultures, Day of the Dead is an acknowledgement that death is a natural phasein life’s continuum. The dead, kept alive in memory and spirit, are recognized as members of the community. Imbedded in the culture is the belief that the souls of the deceased return to the home of the living to be with family members and feed on the food offered to them on the altars placed in their honor.

While Halloween takes place on October 31, Day of the Dead is commemorated on November 1 and 2—All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day on the Christian calendar—around the time of the fall maize harvest. Throughout Mexico, Day of the Dead festivities unfold over two days in a colorful display of life-affirming joy. Mexicans from all ethnic and religious backgrounds celebrate Día de los Muertos, a holiday that has endured over the centuries as a reaffirmation of life.

While the theme is death, the gatherings are not morbid. Families get together to show love and respect for deceased family members. Revelers don makeup and costumes, march in parades, sing and dance at parties, and make offerings to lost loved ones. Visitors will see altars, or ofrendas, in the historic quarter of San Jose del Cabo. These altars are meant to welcome spirits back to the realm of the living. They’re adorned with offerings--a favorite meal, family photos, a candle for each dead relative.

Ofrendas include the four elements: water, wind, earth and fire. Water is left in a pitcher so the spirits can quench their thirst after the long journey. Papel picado, or traditional paper banners, represent the wind. Earth is symbolized by food, especially bread. Candles are often left in the form of a cross to signify the cardinal directions, so the spirits can find their way. Flowers (especially marigolds) and monarch butterflies are common symbols; orange and purple are typical colors.

For the living, offerings include pan de muerto, or bread of the dead, a typical sweet bread (pan dulce) dotted with anise seeds and decorated with bones and skulls made from dough. The bones might be arranged in a circle, as in the circle of life. Tiny dough teardrops symbolize sorrow (see recipe below).

A series of commemorative Day of the Dead events are scheduled to take place at several Pueblo Bonito Resorts on Oct. 31 and Nov. 2

  • A classic Halloween celebration will take place on Oct. 31 at the Mare
  • Nostrum restaurant at Pueblo Bonito Rose from 5:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. In addition to a Mediterranean buffet and festive desserts, a costume contest will be held on the Sushi Deck at 7:30 p.m.

A number of themed events are scheduled for Nov. 2.

  • On the beach at Pacifica, a Festival of Life and Death at 7:00 p.m. will feature a Mexican buffet as well as costumes and floral arrangements.

  • Sunset Beach will stage a Day of the Dead Festival at La Nao from 5:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. (Mexican buffet, live Mariachi). At La Frida, a Day of the Dead Festival, to be held on Nov. 1 and Nov. 2 at the same times as above, will offer a 5-course tasting menu and a live pianist.

  • Montecristo’s Day of the Dead celebration, from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., will feature a Mexican buffet and live regional music from 7:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

  • An altar contest is planned at each of the Los Cabos properties on Nov. 2 at 4:00 p.m.

  • Pueblo Bonito’s Mazatlán and Emerald Bay resorts have also scheduled Day of the Day commemorative events for Nov. 2


Pan de Muerto, a key element on the Day of the Dead altar, is irresistibly delicious. It’s has been available in bakeries and supermarkets since mid-October, but there’s nothing like homemade bread of the dead. Get creative! You can mold the bread into different shapes like angels and animals. Here’s an easy-to-follow recipe.



  • ¼ cup milk
  • ¼ cup margarine
  • ¼ cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons anise seed
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest


  • ¼ cup white sugar
  • ¼ cup orange juice
  • 2 teaspoons orange zest
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar

1. Make bread: Heat milk and margarine in a medium saucepan over low heat until margarine melts. Remove from heat and add warm water. Mixture should be around 110 degrees F (43 degrees C).
2. Combine 1 cup flour, sugar, anise seed, yeast, and salt in a large bowl. Beat in warm milk mixture, then add eggs and orange zest; beat until well combined. Stir in 1/2 cup flour and continue adding more flour until dough is soft.
3. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic. Place dough into a lightly greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 1 to 2 hours.
4. Punch dough down and shape into a large round loaf with a round knob on top. Place dough onto a baking sheet; loosely cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until just about doubled in size, about 1 hour.
5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
6. Bake in the preheated oven until golden brown, 35 to 45 minutes. Cool slightly before brushing with glaze.
7. Make glaze: Combine 1/4 cup sugar, orange juice, and orange zest in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat and boil for 2 minutes. Brush glaze over top of warm bread. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons sugar. Tip: You may substitute 1/2 teaspoon anise extract for the anise seeds.