The Ultimate Vocabulary Guide to Day of the Dead in Spanish
Get up close to Mexican culture by learning this Day of the Dead vocabulary.
Day of the Dead is a Mexican celebration where the living welcome their beloved departed once a year. The dead crosses the threshold of their world to ours to eat, drink, dance, and sing with us.
To learn more details about the specific rituals, decorations, dishes, and even how to make your own ofrenda (altar), read this post on How to Celebrate Day of the Dead Like a True Mexican.
This pre-Hispanic and Catholic tradition is a magical realm where past and present collide in otherworldly festivities.
Read on to learn Day of the Dead vocabulary in Spanish, discover traditions and rituals surrounding this beautiful holiday, and explore the many ways Mexicans have of saying that someone died.
Day of the Dead in Spanish
How do you say “Day of the Dead” in Spanish? The Spanish translation for this holiday is Día de los Muertos. Mexicans celebrate it on November 1, when they welcome the souls of children, and November 2 when they welcome the souls of adults.
Families gather to spend quality time together, decorating, eating, and sharing anecdotes of those who’ve passed away. This isn’t a sad day; it’s nostalgic yet full of peace and gratitude.
|afterworld||el más allá|
|Day of the Dead||Día de los muertos|
|Mexican culture||la cultura mexicana|
|quality time||el tiempo de calidad|
Day of the Dead Vocabulary – Ofrenda
La ofrenda (the offering) is what we place inside our homes to offer the departed after their long trip. They will be thirsty, hungry, and in need of their belongings. If they are kids, they will want to play with toys and eat candy. The ofrendas normally have 7 levels, including items that represent the four elements.
The pictures of the dead or muertitos (little dead) are essential; without them, they can’t come back to the living. Learn this Day of the Dead vocabulary in Spanish to get to know some of the items we place on the altars.
|candle||la vela, la veladora|
|cut-out tissue paper||el papel picado|
Day of the Dead Vocabulary – Comida
Food is key to Day of the Dead celebrations. Mexican families gather to prepare and share the delicious dishes of their abuelas (grandmothers).
We eat these dishes and place them on the altar for our muertitos to eat. They vary according to your and your muertitos’ taste, but the one thing you can’t miss is the pan de muerto (bread of the dead).
|anise seeds||las semillas de anís|
|bread of the dead||el pan de muerto|
|chocolate skulls||las calaveras de chocolate|
|orange zest||la cáscara de naranja|
|sweet bread||el pan dulce (Mexican comfort food)|
|sugar skulls||las calaveras de azúcar|
Day of the Dead Vocabulary – Ritual
This Day of the Dead vocabulary in Spanish lists wouldn’t be complete without the essential part of the Día de Muertos: the rituals. That is all the prayers we say and how we purify with salt and incense—we use copal incense for this—before decorating.
All decorations are symbols and have a purpose. More than arranging your house for a party, you’re respectfully putting everything in place to honor the departed.
|journey||el viaje, el trayecto|
|rest in peace||descanse en paz|
Day of the Dead Vocabulary – Fiesta
The afterparty is a family reunion where everyone sings, dances, and tells jokes and anecdotes. Normally this takes place at home, in the town square, or at the cemetery.
|holiday||las vacaciones, el día festivo|
|town square||la plaza|
Ways To Say That Someone Died
Mexicans have a unique way of coexisting with death. It’s beautiful, ugly, and funny at the same time. We’d rather remember all the fun we had with our muertitos than cry over their ending.
Mexicans have many phrases to express that someone has died. Each has a humorous connotation to lighten up the situation. However, keep in mind that using these phrases right after someone actually dies would be inconsiderate.
1. Estirar la pata
Literal meaning: To stretch the paw
When you die all your limbs stretch out and get stiff, so if you know someone who estiró la pata, they died.
2. Colgar los tenis
Literal meaning: To hang up the sneakers
People in different countries throw their shoes on the electric cables that cross streets to signal something. In Mexico, it means that someone has died, and the intention was to announce it to the community.
A petate is a woven carpet humble people use to sleep on in small towns and villages. In prehispanic times, some civilizations used them to represent the circle of life, as people gave birth, slept, prayed, got married, and died on them.
Locals wrapped petates around dead bodies during difficult times like the revolution when not enough coffins were available. Petatearse is the verb form of the noun petate, and it’s recognized by the Royal Spanish Academy.
4. Pasar a mejor vida
Literal meaning: Pass away to a better life
5. Entregar el equipo
Literal meaning: To return the equipment
When an athlete gives back their gear, it’s because that person is done playing. When someone entrega el equipo, it means they’re out of the game (dead).
6. Sacar con los pies por delante
Literal meaning: to take someone out the door feet first, which is how people remove the dead body from the house
7. Se enfrió
Literal meaning: S/he got cold.
8. Se lo llevó o cargó la huesuda
Literal meaning: the bony one took or carried them
9. Bailó con la más fea
Literal meaning: S/he danced with the ugliest one; Mexicans refer to the figure of death as the ugliest one.
10. Se nos adelantó
Literal meaning: S/he got ahead of us.
11. Fue a ver como crecen las rosas desde abajo
Literal meaning: He went to see how the roses grow from below.
The person is dead and buried six feet under.
12. Se puso la pijama de madera
Literal meaning: S/he put on the wooden pajamas.
The deceased is in a coffin.
Learn Spanish and Embrace Mexican Culture
The best way to learn about the Day of the Dead celebration is to visit Mexico and see it first hand. Michoacán, Aguascalientes, Oaxaca, and Mexico City are the best places to witness this festivity. By learning Spanish, you not only travel easier (as you’ll be able to ask for directions and engage in conversations with locals), but also add a potent tool to your life and career.
Here at Homeschool Spanish Academy, we want to enhance your experience by teaching you Spanish before your trip. Our method helps you learn rapidly and enables you to speak like a native. Take a free trial class with one of our friendly, certified teachers from Guatemala. See our programs and prices and get a head start before your trip to Mexico for Day of the Dead!
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