5 Facts You May Not Know About Día de los Muertos


In towns across Mexico and Central America, people are celebrating Día de los Muertos or, in English, the Day of the Dead. It’s Mexico’s most popular national holiday and has become well-known in the United States among Mexican-Americans and hipsters in Brooklyn that eagerly latch on to anything unique. You might even remember learning about Día de los Muertos in your Spanish class — but did you know that Americans have been calling it by the wrong name for years? Or that the origin of the tradition is from before the Spanish even set foot in North America?

Test your knowledge with these 5 facts that you may not know about Día de los Muertos:

1. It’s not really called Día de los Muertos

If you want to sound like a native Spanish speaker, drop the los.

The actual name in Spanish is Día de Muertos.  Of course, saying that it’s “Dead Day” in English would sound a bit off, so linguistic license was taken to translate it into “Day of the Dead”. Many people, remembering the Mexican origins of the holiday, translate it back into Spanish as Día de los Muertos. This back and forth is known as a back-translation and, while it may sound correct, it’s totally not.

2. It’s actually 2 days


Perhaps the best name for the holiday would be Los Días de Muertos because it starts on November 1st and doesn’t end until the evening of November 2nd. This is by design and allows for a day to celebrate los angelitos (little angels), the souls of children that have passed away, and another day to celebrate the adults. In fact, November 1st is referred to as Día de los Inocentes (Day of the Innocents) and November 2nd is known as Día de los Difuntos (Day of the Deceased).

3. It’s not meant to be scary


We get it – we’ve used words like ‘deceased’ and ‘dead’ more than a study abroad blog ever should, but the truth is that Día de Muertos isn’t supposed to be sad or scary. After all, it’s a celebration! A time for family and friends to come together to pray for and support their deceased loved ones in their journey through the afterlife. The hope is that families will be visited by the souls of their loved ones (again, this is not supposed to be scary). The souls can then hear the prayers for them and get caught up on anything new that’s happened with the family!  Celebrations often have a humorous tone, with living family members sharing funny events and anecdotes about the deceased.

4. It’s a true mezcla of Pre-Hispanic and Catholic traditions


Rituals commemorating the deaths of ancestors had been popular in the cultures of Mesoamerica, like the Aztecs and Mayas, for thousands of years. In the time of the Aztecs, the festival lasted an entire month and was dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl, the “Lady of the Dead” (pictured above). Over centuries of Spanish colonization and influence, ancient traditions mixed with the worldwide Catholic celebration of All Saints’ Day – where families visit the graves of relatives to honor them – creating the Día de Muertos celebration that we know today.

On a side note, we find the mezcla between Mesoamerican and European cultures to be one of the fascinating things about Mexican culture. One of the cities where this mix is most apparent is Santiago de Querétaro, one of SPI’s featured high school Spanish immersion destinations for 2017. Visiting Querétaro is a must for those interested in this enchanting culture. Ok, back to the list…

5. It’s officially an intangible cultural heritage of humanity


In 2008, UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), officially added Día de Muertos to its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity – alongside cultural hallmarks like the scissors dance and Chinese calligraphy.

So it’s official, Día de Muertos is kind of a big deal.  While Day of the Dead customs in Mexico change a little from town to town, one common thread of those celebrating is the combination of loss and introspection with the joy of fond memories and the belief that those that have passed are never truly gone – something we can all take comfort in!

A Life-changing Experience!

Get ready to experience and SPI Abroad program yourself. Learn more about our programs or request more information today.

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Request Your Catalog Today.

Fill out the form below and we will send you a catalog and get in touch. Please note all fields are required.

A Life-changing Experience!

Get ready to experience and SPI Abroad program yourself. Learn more about our programs or request more information today.

Request Your Catalog Today.

Fill out the form below and we will send you a catalog and get in touch. Please note all fields are required.

On-Site Supervision Team Abroad

We hire bilingual high school teachers, university professors, and caring local staff who, as a team, serve as international “moms and dads” throughout the program. Directors actively participate in all aspects of the immersion experience: helping with housing adjustments, checking in on classes, and making sure students are taking advantage of the wonderful excursion and activity opportunities. All SPI staff go through extensive reference checks.

Training & Experience

Directors are selected based on their experience working with teenagers in an international setting, their ability to communicate fluently in the language of study, and their academic & professional background. All on-site staff go through an intensive training process.

Daily Supervision

Students are expected to be respectful of their directors’ guidelines and abide by the SPI standards of conduct at all times. SPI directors and program staff are available 24 hours a day. Directors check in with students on a daily basis in the mornings, afternoons, and evenings; they also frequently monitor all aspects of each student’s progress. Homestays and residence directors are contacted to learn how students are adjusting, and to handle any concerns. Daily curfews are enforced.

Student Behavior Expectations

Since 1996, we have proudly attracted an academically-minded student body focused on improving their language skills and growing from cultural experiences. At SPI, we take our role as teachers seriously — we recognize that we are responsible for guiding students through one of their most life-changing experiences. We expect students not only to abide by our standards of conduct at all times, but also to serve as ambassadors of their local communities, schools, and cities.

No Alcohol Policy

SPI maintains a strict policy against the use of alcohol. Directors check in with students in the evenings; however, parents are expected to review our standards of conduct with their children and set clear family expectations prior to the start of the program with regards to their behavior abroad.

Afternoon Elective Activities

Our meaningful afternoon elective activities make local culture, art, architecture, museums, sports, and attractions come to life! Each program offers a variety of engaging activities designed to combine serious fun with truly inspiring “once in a lifetime” experiences. Electives are not included in the program price, and we suggest students budget $100 per week for participation in these incredible learning experiences.

Common Afternoon Electives

CULTURAL: Cooking, Dance, Art & Architecture, Museum & Theater Visits, Local Sporting & Cultural Events

SPORTS: Surfing, Volleyball, Soccer, Kayaking, Snorkeling, Hikes & Walks

ENRICHMENT: Photography, College Prep (Essay Writing, Admissions Prep), Photography, Guest Speakers

Sample Travel Excursions

SPAIN: Bilbao, Pamplona, Santander, San Sebastian, Guernika, Biarritz (France), Comillas, Picos de Europa

FRANCE: Bordeaux, Bayonne, Anglet, San Sebastian (Spain), St. Jean de Luz, Pyrenees Mountains

COSTA RICA: Liberia, Cloud Forest, Puntarenas, Rincon de la Vieja, Tamarindo Beach

ITALY: Florence, Orvieto, San Gimignano, San Vincezo, Castiglione della Pescaia

Our Screening & Selection Process

Students live with roommates in a local homestay or student residence that is experienced in hosting foreign students. SPI has worked with most participating homestays and student residences for a number of years, and they understand students are there to learn the language and experience the culture. SPI diligently screens each homestay and student residence facility with the following in mind: safety, location, cleanliness, and previous experience hosting students.


Most homestays have hosted students for many years and take their jobs and duties as cultural ambassadors very seriously. Our foreign schools also work with each family on a year-round basis to ensure a positive experience is had by each student. It is critical to understand that most homestays come from humble means and different dynamics.

Location of Housing

All housing options are located within a 10-30 minute commute from the school. Students will walk or take the local bus, which is a safe and normal way for students their age to get around in our host cities. The majority of our housing options are located in the same areas where students will be close to each other.

Evening Curfews

Student curfews are set based on what a culturally appropriate weekday and weekend curfew would be for teenagers in the country of study. This is normally between 10 PM – 11 PM on weekdays and a little later on the weekends depending on location and group dynamic. As an important safety measure, program staff diligently monitor student curfews. Specific curfews are listed on each program page for your reference. 

Typical Housing Dynamics

Students are well supported in all housing options and are provided with: meals, a living and study space, laundry service or facilities, linens and towels. It is fundamental that students have an open mind to trying new foods and living in an environment different than “home” to benefit from this transformative experience!

Although SPI homestays come in all shapes and sizes, the majority are older couples or single/widowed women in their 50s – 60s who have extra room in their home and are eager to host students. We have found this dynamic provides the best support, the most interaction, and the most culturally rich experience. Some homestays do have children, but students should keep in mind that homestays with children are busier and often offer less interaction — much like a busy American family.

Language Course Overview

The language courses focus on developing communication skills by simulating real-life situations through interactive class activities that include writing, oral expression, film, music, food, and literature.

> 2 Hours – Grammatical Concepts

> 1-2 Hours – Conversation, Culture, Literature, Film, etc.

> Small class sizes with levels 1 through AP/IB

College Credit Opportunity

SPI uses foreign universities and accredited language institutes for coursework abroad. These institutions provide high school students, upon successful completion of their courses, with an official transcript that they may use to petition college credit from their future university or college. Official transcripts are first sent to SPI in September, and then we will mail an official copy of the transcript in a sealed envelope to each participant. You will mail the official transcript packet directly to your U.S. university once you are enrolled.

Credit Hours vs. Credit Granted

Most SPI language immersion programs give 30-80 contact hours, or classroom hours, enabling for a potential of up to 1-6 semester college credit hours by your university. Contact hours are treated differently at every school. Some schools will grant specific class credit for the hours (e.g., Spanish), although most give a general foreign language or elective credit. Normally, 15 Contact/Class Hours = 1 College Credit Hour.

IMPORTANT:  Due to the nature of college credit granting by each individual U.S. university, it is impossible for SPI to guarantee credit for any student.