How Mexican cemeteries transform into unique shrines on Dia de los Muertos

San Antonio to celebrate holiday on Nov. 1 along River Walk

Perhaps the best place to learn more about Dia de los Muertos is at one of Mexico City’s most historic cemeteries, Panteon del Carmen.
Perhaps the best place to learn more about Dia de los Muertos is at one of Mexico City’s most historic cemeteries, Panteon del Carmen.

MEXICO CITY – Throughout October, KSAT has been sharing stories about the history and meaning of Dia de los Muertos. 

Perhaps the best place to learn more about Dia de los Muertos is at one of Mexico City's most historic cemeteries.

KSAT anchor Isis Romero, digital reporter RJ Marquez and photojournalist Misael Gomez traveled to Mexico City and visited the Panteon del Carmen.

The Panteon del Carmen is a small family-owned cemetery about an hour outside Mexico City.

Special Section: Day of the Dead

We met Lino Rivero Guerra, who is a caretaker and visitor at the panteon. He showed us the gravesites of his family members, including a daughter who was born premature and a son who died after 43 days, his parents and grandparents.

Guerra explained that Mexican gravesites are a labor of love.

Each one is its own unique shrine that families have dedicated to their loved one, with items they loved in life. They look much different from those in the United States.

In many cases, visitors can feel the personalities of those people who have passed on because of the mementos and things that have been left at their gravesite in remembrance of them.

Guerra tells us this is the Mexican culture and way to honor the dead. 

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On Dia de los Muertos, Mexican cemeteries transform as families members lovingly clean the gravesites of their loved ones, as they prepare to welcome their spirits back home.

One of the first things they do after cleaning is to place cempasúchil at the gravesite.

The flower is widely known as the marigold. The smell of these flowers are thought to attract souls of the dead to their offerings, family homes or gravesites.

It's called “The Flower of the Dead” and it’s a central element of any Day of the Dead altar. The Marigold’s spiritual purpose and how it spread across the globe. Click here for more Day of the Dead stories
It's called “The Flower of the Dead” and it’s a central element of any Day of the Dead altar. The Marigold’s spiritual purpose and how it spread across the globe. Click here for more Day of the Dead stories

Candles, trinkets and other items are used to decorate gravesites. Toys are brought for children, and sometimes a favorite food or alcohol for adults.

In some cases, headstones are painted or marked with bright colors. This is not a common practice and mostly not allowed at cemeteries in the U.S.

Families can spend all night at gravesites on Dia de los Muertos. But a common theme is that it is ultimately a day of celebration.

This is an opportunity to spend time with loved ones who have died. A time when the dead can visit their living family members and remember good times and share beautiful memories.

Day of the Dead dates back to pre-Columbian, pre-Hispanic, indigenous traditions, but it's not unique to the Americas. Professor Teresa Van Hoy, Phd. of Saint Mary's University, explains the universal...
Day of the Dead dates back to pre-Columbian, pre-Hispanic, indigenous traditions, but it's not unique to the Americas. Professor Teresa Van Hoy, Phd. of Saint Mary's University, explains the universal...

About the Authors:

RJ Marquez has been at KSAT since 2010. He's covered a variety of stories and events across the San Antonio area, and is the lead reporter for KSAT Explains. He also covers the Spurs for on-air and digital platforms. You can see RJ regularly on KSAT Explains and Good Morning San Antonio. He also writes a weekly Spurs newsletter.

Misael started at KSAT-TV as a photojournalist in 1987.