Day of the Dead Parade: A Confluence of Tradition and Popular Culture in Mexico City

by Ethan Kim
Day of the Dead parade

On Saturday, a multitude converged on Mexico City to witness the vibrant procession of the Day of the Dead, where dancers in elaborate attire, percussionists, and an array of floats made their way down the Paseo de la Reforma boulevard, culminating in the historical colonial center.

Skeleton-clad marching bands and skull-painted dancers adorned in indigenous garb enlivened the festivities. The air was laden with the distinctive aroma of copal incense, a traditional scent associated with the event.

An ensemble of skeleton musicians delivered rhythms reminiscent of samba, while elsewhere, dancers with skirts depicting monarch butterfly wings—an emblem of the season—performed their ritual dance, coinciding with the butterflies’ annual return to winter in Mexico.

Reflecting societal progress, a group of drag artists participated as “Catrinas,” an homage to the elegantly attired skeletal figures of the 1870s.

The commemorative occasion spans from October 31st, dedicating remembrance to those lost to unforeseen tragedies, through November 1st, focusing on the young departed, and culminating on November 2nd, honoring deceased adults.

The “muerteadas” of Mexico, a tradition showcasing the juxtaposition of life’s joy and death’s solemnity
Mexicans utilize blooms, altars, and candles to pay homage to the dead during the Day of the Dead festivities
A feast for the senses: The Day of the Dead’s multisensory celebration in Mexico

Additionally, the city honors this time with an expansive altar and a parade of “alebrijes”—colorful and imaginative sculptures.

While such parades have not historically been a staple of the Day of the Dead across most of Mexico, they are reminiscent of the “muerteadas” observed in Oaxaca, which share a comparably jubilant spirit.

The concept of a Hollywood-esque Day of the Dead parade was conceived for the 2016 Mexico City celebrations, drawing inspiration from a fictitious parade featured in the 2015 James Bond film “Spectre,” which was filmed in Mexico City and featured Bond navigating through a sea of skeleton-bedecked partygoers and ornate floats.

Prompted by the cinematic creation and the global exposure it garnered, Mexico City birthed its version of the festivity.

Local resident Rocío Morán, a skull makeup adorned observer and ratings company executive, welcomed the fusion of tradition and innovation. Morán embraced the event’s modern popularity, spurred by the James Bond franchise, for its positive impact on the city’s economy and its allure for tourists.

Morán views the Day of the Dead as a timeless observance, now amplified through strategic marketing to capture the world’s attention and appreciation.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Day of the Dead parade

What is the Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City?

The Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City is a vibrant event that includes costumed dancers, drummers, floats, and skeleton-clad marching bands. It celebrates the return of the spirits of the deceased with traditional music, indigenous costumes, and the symbolic presence of monarch butterflies.

When does Mexico City’s Day of the Dead parade take place?

The parade takes place during the Day of the Dead festivities, which start on October 31st in remembrance of those who died in accidents, continue on November 1st to honor deceased children, and conclude on November 2nd celebrating adults who have passed away.

What are “Catrinas” in the context of the Day of the Dead parade?

“Catrinas” are costumed figures resembling skeletal dames dressed in high fashion from the 1870s. They have become an emblematic image of the Day of the Dead celebrations and were included in the parade as part of a contingent of drag performers.

How did the Hollywood film “Spectre” influence the Day of the Dead parade?

The Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City was influenced by a fictional parade in the 2015 James Bond film “Spectre,” where Bond chases a villain through a procession filled with people in skeleton outfits. The film’s depiction inspired Mexico City to adopt a similar grand parade starting in 2016.

What are “alebrijes” and how are they related to the Day of the Dead?

“Alebrijes” are colorful, fantastical sculptures that are part of the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico City. They are often included in a special procession and are known for their vibrant colors and mythical creature designs.

More about Day of the Dead parade

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Maria Lopez November 5, 2023 - 4:46 am

I saw the parade last year, the colors, the music… it was just magical, though I kinda miss the times when it was a quieter affair you know, less showbiz.

Carlos Garcia November 5, 2023 - 10:53 am

really love how the parade has turned out, brings so much life to the city and its awesome to see our traditions getting such recognition, specially with the whole Bond movie giving it a boost!

Mike Johnson November 5, 2023 - 1:27 pm

was there in 2019 and the alebrijes were just mind blowing, these artisans deserve more spotlight, their work is just out of this world no doubt.

John Smith November 5, 2023 - 2:01 pm

gotta say I didn’t expect to see something that started in a movie become such a big deal in real life but hey, if it helps the local economy then im all for it

Ana Ruiz November 5, 2023 - 5:17 pm

there’s something special about watching the little ones dance in butterfly skirts, almost feels like the spirits are dancing with them, gives me goosebumps every time.


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