30 Oct Dia de los Muertos
Day of the Dead is by far my favorite holiday of the year, and spell-bindingly so with its array of vibrant marigolds and raspberry colored coxcombs, multicolored cutout flags strung between buildings and over streets, altars to the dead adorned with everything from rice and beans to candles and tequila, and last but never least, the incredible tradition of Catrina.
Many people outside of Mexico don’t understand Dia de los Muertos and view it as morbid or confuse it with Halloween. Though the dates are close and both holidays are tied to Catholicism, they are actually quite different.
For Halloween, we try to dress up as something scary to frighten away lurking spirits or even death itself. Death is to be feared and avoided. Not so in the Mexican tradition, which falls on November 1 and 2 (All Saints Day and All Souls Day), life is celebrated – the memory of a loved one or honoring family lineage and ancestors.
Mexico places great importance on Dia de Los Muertos. Starting with an immense reverence for family, it makes sense that this holiday is celebrated with exuberance.
For Dia de los Muertos, there is no fear of the dead. They are honored guests, welcome in the space of the living. They are offered their favorite snacks and drinks, like Pan de Muerto and tequila. They’re surrounded by vibrant marigolds and deep purple coxcomb. It is a happy shared space where both the living and the dead are comfortable.
The San Miguel cemetery is bustling with life, locals and tourists alike rub shoulders as they walk along in single file lines in and out of the grounds, the sound of different mariachi bands playing along the cremation wall and through the aisles of the remembered dead.
Always in search of something more rural, more authentic (in the sense that it had been less influenced by outsiders), Sean took me to the cemetery in Puerto del Nieto, an undiscovered rural gem without another foreigner in sight. Dirt graves marked with iron crosses and decorated with coke bottles. A giant agave planted at the head of a plot has grown enormous, covering the grave in its entirety. I wondered if the agave could be considered sacred, an extension of the loved one lost, feeding off their energy.
The symbol for the Day of the Dead is the Catrina, a woman dressed in fine clothing with a skeleton face. She represents the materialism you can’t take with you when you die. Many people dress as Catrinas (or Catrins if they’re men) and parade through town or go to social events. There is an array of parties, like the Calaca Festival, and in every interaction people confront the idea of their own death with warmth and playfulness.