I love everything about Day of the Dead in Mexico.
Even though I've been 28 times, the holiday is still a bit mysterious. It's a strongly spiritual time - full of tradition, story-telling and expressions of love for those dear departed loved ones....
You don't need to speak Spanish in order to be enveloped with color and art, the perfumed smoke of the copal, the pageantry of millions of flowers painting the cemeteries orange and magenta in anticipation of the spirit's arrival. You notice the abundance of good foods and are impressed with the extraordinary effort used to build home ofrendas & decorate the tombs.
Each year I return thinking folks are going to get tired of all this work - the economics won't permit such lavish expenditures - it must fizzle out eventually... but it never does!
I am always greeted with a tamale at the door or a cup of punche (or mezcal) in the cemetery. I am warmly greeted by strangers and invited in to see their ofrendas... and there is nothing I like better than to spend an hour in the house of strangers, asking questions about their dead relatives I've never met while sharing homemade champurrado and a freshly made tortilla while a rooster walks past!
Roadside descanso (resting place) decorated for
Day of the Dead,
Closeup, Veracruz, Mexico home ofrenda with banana leaf tamales & hanging pan de muerto in shapes of little spirits
Rare & fancy cardinal sugar skull, Toluca, Mexico
Cemetery, Huasteca region of
Passing down the Dia de Muertos grave decorating tradition, Oaxaca
Sand painting ofrenda, Zapotec Indian home,
Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca
Banana-leaf tamales & mole delight the spirits
Pan de muerto
Goats at the Pemex station - barbacoa mañana!
Hand sculpted pumpkin seed paste skulls
Licor de anis - Traditional molded & filled candies for the angelito, baby ofrendas
Sugar mini angels for the baby ofrendas
Indigenous Trique Indian woman heading home with cempasuchil & cock's comb to decorate the family's ofrenda, Malinalco, Mexico
Tehuana lime vendor
Oaxacan school girl
Unusual mermaid pan de muerto, made to adorn an ofrenda
Florimortal grave decoration
Pan de muerto in shapes of spirits
Zapotec wax flower ofrenda candle, a dying art form>
Contemporary interpretive ofrenda using traditional elements, Oaxaca City
Elaborate floral & bamboo archway into a church yard, Mexico City
Procession of muñeca de calenda dance dolls walking through Oaxaca City zocolo
Mexicans understand a beautiful simple truth about life - it is good to stay close to your "muertos". It's a good thing to continue to remember them, learn from them and share your feelings with them. It's good to teach your children how to express their love as much as it is to reassure aging folks that they won't be forgotten.
I feel very fortunate to have fallen in love with this holiday that is so generously shared with us by our friends south of the border. Most people will never be able to visit Oaxaca, Michoacan or Veracruz, or sit in a candlelit cemetery as the gates to heaven open at midnight to allow the spirits to reunite with their families here on earth.
As Day of the Dead grows in popularity around the world, it will morph and twist a bit. It may be commercialized & hijacked by big-box holiday makers. But the true lovers of Day of the Dead will keep the faith and magic central, and honoring their loved ones will remain the essence of the holiday.
Warm wishes to you and your "muertos"!
Angela Villalba & all of us here at MexicanSugarSkull.com
Many thanks to Susan Kullmann for sharing some of her beautiful photographs of Oaxaca in this scrapbook.
Take a mini trip to Oaxaca for Day of the Dead - Enjoy!
This excellent video was photographed by Bob Krist, independent reporter & photographer, contributor to National Geographic Traveler Magazine. Edited by John N. Campbell.