Día de Muertos, or “Day of the Dead,” is a Mexican festival in honor of loved ones who are no longer with us. Far from a grim and funereal occasion, this is a vibrant and deeply spiritual affair. And dogs play a special role in the proceedings. Here’s how, and where, you can pay homage to your beloved pets on Day of the Dead.
About Day of the Dead
Día de Muertos is commemorated throughout Mexico and by people of Mexican heritage around the world. While the revelries may commence in late October, the souls of the departed, including four-legged ones, are invited to commune with the living on November 1 and 2. The holiday embraces life and love even beyond the grave, and it does so with an atmosphere of joy in the face of death.
Traditions and Iconography
Day of the Dead traces its roots back more than 3,000 years. It’s a festival rich in symbolism, ritual and folklore. Among its most prominent icons are the “calaveras,” or skulls, and the elegant Catrina, a figure of a beautifully dressed female skeleton often sporting a wide-brimmed hat or umbrella. Flags of “papel picado,” made by cutting intricate designs into sheets of paper, flutter in the air. Bright orange marigolds are everywhere, as their scent lures the dead back to the world of the living. And wildly imaginative “alebrijes,” sculptures of fantastical creatures, float along parade routes.
But the essential element of a Day of the Dead observance is the “ofrenda,” or altar. These can be created for any beloved family members, including pets, whose souls are welcomed back to join their families on Día de Muertos. While the final presentations of an ofrenda are as unique as the pups and persons for whom they stand, there are particular elements that are fundamental to the design of an altar of the dead:
- An image of the deceased.
- "Cempasúchil" (marigold) flowers to guide the spirits back to the world of the living.
- "Pan de muerto," a sweet bread shaped like a bun and often decorated with bones.
- Favorite foods and drinks of departed loved ones.
- "Copal," an aromatic tree resin, or incense to transmit prayers and purify the air.
- Candles, candles and more candles to help guide souls to the ofrenda.
- Skulls to remember that death is always among us.
- Cut paper decorations to exhibit the joy of the holiday.
- Water, so that souls may cool down after their journey.
- A cross typically made of lime, salt, flower petals or sawdust.
The Importance of Dogs on Día de Muertos
In addition to being honored with ofrendas, canines are believed to play a special role in the afterlife. Xoloitzcuintli, also known as Xolos or Mexican Hairless Dogs, are revered as spirit guides to the kingdom of the dead. If you've watched Disney's “Coco,” you’ll be familiar with Dante, the Xolo companion of the young aspiring guitarist as he journeys to and from the land of the dead.
Pups are also well represented in the decor and pageantry of the festival. Sugar skulls in the shape of dogs, canine artwork and even costumed pooches are common sights on Day of the Dead. Alebrijes are also often made to resemble our furry friends.
Pet-Friendly Day of the Dead Celebrations
Thanks in part to recognition by UNESCO in 2008, Día de Muertos is more popular than ever around the world. Many Day of the Dead events welcome leashed dogs. Before you bring Fido to see the ofrendas and join in the fiestas, however, it’s important to recognize that these are crowded and loud events. Make sure that your perro will be comfortable around all of the delicious food, incense and music, not to mention people in vivid costumes and face paint.
The Mexican capital hosts the most elaborate and extravagant Day of the Dead celebration of all. On October 19, a massive procession of larger-than-life, hand-sculpted alebrijes sets off from the Zocalo at noon and travels down Reforma Avenue, where they remain on display until November 17. The Ministry of Culture officially kicks off Day of the Dead festivities in Mexico City on the evening of October 24. Over the following week, every shop, restaurant, street and cemetery brims with activity. The grand finale is the “Desfile de Día de Muertos,” the Day of the Dead Parade on November 2. Here you’ll see displays of towering skeleton puppets, moving ofrendas, calaveras, marigolds, Catrinas, traditional dancers, and more. For cosy and convenient accommodations, reserve a room at the pet-friendly Chaya B&B Boutique. The hotel faces a lovely park and is just three blocks from Reforma.
Widely considered a cultural and culinary hotspot, Oaxaca is an ideal place to enjoy Día de los Muertos. Alebrijes originate from this city, so expect to see truly artistic and imaginative creatures on display. The "pawty" gets going on October 31 and culminates on November 2. Stay close to all the action by booking a pet-friendly room at the historic and architecturally amazing Hotel Casantica.
Janitzio is a small island town in the state of Michoacán. The island is easily reached by boat from Lake Patzcuaro. The Purépecha people host elaborate ceremonies in the days leading up to Day of the Dead, but the most impressive sight is the fleet of illuminated fishing boats dotting the lake after dark. Stay at the pet-friendly Hotel Casa Encantada, located steps from the historic Plaza Don Vasco de Quiroga in the heart of Patzcuaro.
Held on November 2, the Unity Council Día de los Muertos is a free, outdoor festival that brings more than 100,000 people to the vibrant, culturally rich Fruitvale neighborhood. Enjoy world-class live music, family-friendly games, rides and activities, traditional Latin American artisans, and stunning altar installations created by community members paying homage to those who are no longer with us. When you’re ready to return to the land of the living, head down International Boulevard to your pet-friendly room at Homewood Suites Oakland Waterfront.
San Antonio, TX
Día de los Muertos - San Antonio invites the public and their pooches to come enjoy traditional art and culture in its annual salute to the dearly departed. Festivities take place on October 26-27 at Hemisfair and include live music, original artwork exhibits, dances, puppet processions and a large, community-wide open-altar exhibition. After living it up with your pup, make your way back to the Emily Morgan Hotel, located across the street from the Alamo and only a few blocks from Hemisfair.
St. Petersburg, FL
On November 2, bring Fido to pay tribute to those who have passed on at the Day of the Dead Block Party at The Dog Bar. The event will include face painting, food from Nueva Cantina food truck and the famous Chihuahua Races. The diminutive speed demons will compete to discover who is the fastest Chihuahua in the whole wide bar. Proceeds will benefit Limbo Chihuahuas and Pawlicious Poochie Pet Rescue.
Rent a pet-friendly Studio in a Historic Craftsman House, located mere blocks from the event. And while you’re in the area, make sure to visit Fort De Soto Dog Beach Park, one of the 10 best pet-friendly beaches on the Gulf Coast.
The All Souls Procession has been an annual Tucson tradition since 1990. More than 100,000 participants gather in the city from November 1-3 to enjoy traditional Mexican treats, food, artwork and live music. Unique to the festival is a large community urn in which people place slips of paper with prayers and memories of loved ones who have died. You can also make a mask, a puppet, an art installation, an altar or sign to honor the memory of two- and four-legged friends who have passed on. When Fido needs a break, let him rest his paws and order something grand off the Pet Menu back in your room at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort.