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Traditional colours for the Day of the Dead

Updated April 17, 2017

The Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) celebration takes place annually on the first and second days of November. On these dates, residents of Mexico and Central America celebrate deceased loved ones' spirits as they return to the land. While it might sound morbid, this is in fact a happy celebration for participants. The lives of the dead are celebrated, and the belief is that the living will eat, dance and drink with dead relatives. The tradition, which dates back to before the 8th century, is laden with symbolism -- including the meanings of the colours used in the decorations.

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The colour of black represents death in Day of the Dead tradition. Black symbolises the land of the dead and the pre-Hispanic religions of the people. Black is not used as much as the other Day of the Dead colours and is often seen as a background colour in Day of the Dead artwork.


Purple is a very important Day of the Dead colour. Purple candles are lit at the altars in people's homes. The colour purple in the celebration refers back to the Catholic calendar. It signifies pain, suffering, grief and mourning. The families of the dead use purple to acknowledge their loss of loved ones.


Pink is symbolic of celebration in the Day of the Dead celebration when people are paying joyous tribute to the lives of the deceased. They celebrate the return of the dead and their reunion with family members. Often Day of the Dead skeletons, or calaveras, are painted with the colour and wear pink dresses and suits.


Day of the Dead revellers use white to signify purity and renewal, as if the souls of the dead have been wiped clean. White also represents hope and is present in flowers at the altar, along with the traditional paper decorations.

Orange and yellow

Marigolds are widely used to celebrate the Day of the Dead. The petals of marigolds are sprinkled on the ground leading up to the altar, so the dead use can use them as a guide. Marigolds come in orange and yellow, making these colours very important. Orange also represents the sun and yellow symbolises the light and also death.


Red signifies blood or the blood of life. For Christians red is for the spilt blood of Jesus Christ. For the non-Christian Day of the Dead celebrants, red often stands for the blood of people or animals.

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About the Author

Caroline Baldwin, a corporate communications director located in South Carolina, began writing in 1998. Her work has been published in publications across the United States and Canada including Rolling Stone, Boating Life, Waterski and Wakeboarding magazines. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in communication studies from The College of Charleston.

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