Learn Spanish Vocabulary for El Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead

Timing Of The Holiday

The Day of the Dead, or el Día de los Muertos, is a cultural and religious holiday celebrated throughout much of Latin America and in parts of the United States. The celebration extends for several days, from October 31 through November 2, and is focused around rites and activities that are believed to welcome back the spirits of the deceased for a time of visiting.

Essential Vocabulary

Calavera de azúcar

There are many unique objects, ceremonies and foods that make up the ceremonies and beliefs that are part of the Día de los Muertos. This following list of words and phrases comprises some of the important Spanish vocabulary that you should know if you plan to celebrate the Day of the Dead, or if you simply wish to understand it better:

Click for a downloadable, printable list of Spanish vocabulary for el Día de los Muertos

el alfeñique – the special cooked sugar paste used to form skulls, flowers and other figures for the Día de los Muertos.

el altar de la ofrenda – the altar of the offering

elaltar de muertos – the offering prepared for the deceased

el angélito -the little angel (used to refer to the soul of a child)

el arco -the arch (sometimes placed on the grave or on the altar)

el ataúd – the coffin

el atole – the hot drink made of corn, water and fruit flavorings

la calaca en papel maché -the paper maché figure

el candelero -the candlestick

las calacas -the skeletal figures that represent death

la calavera -the skull

las Calaveras – the songs and poems written about the festival

la calavera de azúcar – the sugar skull

las caretas – the masks worn to scare off the spirits at the end of the celebration

las catrinas – the skeletons, dressed like rich women, who represent death

el cementerio – the cemetery

el cempasúchil (cempazúchil) -the Mexican marigold

el flor de muertos -the flower of the dead (another name for the cempsúchil)

el copal – the incense

la cruz –the cross

la danza de los viejitos – the dance of the old people (a humorous dance in which the dancers wear masks of old people)

el Día de los Muertos – the Day of the Dead

el Día Todos los Santos – All Saints’Day

el esqueleto -the skeleton

los dulces -the candies

las flores -the flowers

los gollettes – the doughnut-shaped breads, with pink sugar on them, that are placed on the altar

la guitarra -the guitar

la iluminación -the illumination (the ceremony in the cemetery, during which hundreds of lit candles are thought to guide the deceased souls to their altars)

los mariachis -the Mexican musicians

la mariposa -the butterfly

la máscara -the mask

el mole – the thick sauce made from chilis, sesame seeds, spices, chocolate and fruit (a food typically eaten for this holiday, as well as many other special days)

la Noche de Duelo -the night of sorrow (November 1)

las ofrendas – the offerings

el pan de los muertos -the bread of the dead

el papel picado – the paper cut-out

los serapes – the Mexican blankets

el tambor – the drum

Todos Santos – All Saints, the religious holiday that extends from October 31- November 2

la tumba -the grave