Dia Del Muertos

I am running a little behind, but I wanted to share with you our experience with Dia Del Muertos (Day of the Dead).  Halloween is celebrated here much as it is in the United States, but on a smaller scale and in many ways it just part of the several days of Dia Del Muertos celebrations.  The kids dress up for Halloween parties at school and some go trick-or-treating, both on October 31 and the following day.  The next days coincide with the Catholic holidays of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day.  November 1 is a day for gathering with family and friends, visiting cemeteries, decorating with flowers (particularly yellow and magenta marigolds), holding parades and preparing food to honor the dead. Then on November 2 people gather to view the altars and ofrendas (offerings) that have been created in the prior weeks in remembrance of lost loved ones.  These altars are decorated with pictures of the deceased, flowers, candles, and favorite items of the individual for whom the altar was created (cds, beer, political figures, you name it). 

All of this began with the ancient Aztec practice of ancestor worship and a belief that the spirits of the dead visit their families during these days, but it has become something more.  In Mexico death is respected, but not in the same way it is in other cultures.  Mexicans mourn, but more than that they accept death as a part of life and celebrate the lives of those who have gone before them. They gather together to remember family and friends, to share about their lives, and even tell humorous stories about the deceased. Skulls and skeletal figurines are simply a part of the culture, and as odd as it may sound some of the death decorations are truly beautiful.

On the evening of November 2 we visited one of the UNAM (the major university system here in Mexico) campuses to see the display of ofrendas.  Dave and I expected a sober evening of walking around and viewing the displays created for lost loved ones.  What we found was something very different.  Think an evening at the county fair, meets a gothic renaissance fair, meets a kids Halloween party, meets a science fair with very elaborate displays, meets a wake.

Got that picture in your head?

Let me see if I can help, as we walked out onto the large quad area we were greeted by dozens of individuals selling lighted headbands and toys, food booths, and individuals selling various other wares.  Next came crowds of families, many with children dressed in Halloween costumes who were getting their pictures taken with various individuals dressed in old fashioned dresses and suits with their faces painted to look like skulls.  In the center of the event there was a band playing and off to one side a radio station was playing music and giving some sort of presentation.  Next came around 40 ofrendas, which were generally set up in square spaces of approximately 12 feet on each side.  The ofrendas included all of the traditional items I mentioned above along with huge lighted papier-mâché figurines and buildings and various skeletal figures.  People were crowded around the ofrendas taking pictures and pointing out the various items favored by the deceased.

It was definitely an event unlike any I have been to before.  I have included some pictures from the night.  Unfortunately I did not have our good camera with me and the dozens of flashing lights reeked havoc on my little point and shoot, but I think you’ll get the basic idea.

My sister-in-law and niece with one of
the many costumed guests




Looking back across the quad


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