On the Zócalo in Mexico City
huge tents are set up to welcome all the delegations of the region,
which come to make offerings in the capital.
The orange flowers, called Cempasúchil
are among every decoration.
November 1st and 2nd are the busy Holidays. There is a lot of music
and some have themselves purified by the Náhuatl
with Copal incense.
There are free music and artistic manifestations on a podium,
with quality spectacles like the
Folk Ballet of Mexico to Amalia Hernandez and bands. People
are dressed in skeleton or Halloween costumes. The two holidays
mix together a little bit. This manifestation on the Zócalo
has been held every year for three years, in order to keep the
traditions. The offerings are real passing art works. The offerings
of the Zócalo are reproductions of the offerings that the
Mexican set up in their houses. This includes an altar with the
picture of the dead and a whole collection of flowers and food,
especially the preferred dishes of the dead when he was alive.
When the holiday ends, the whole family enjoys the feast. On the
Zócalo, there are also bakers making the “pan
de muerto”. We bought one and shared it with the hotel
staff. There are also many small booths where you can buy sugar
skulls or skeletons as gifts.
In the San Francisco church yard, on Madero Street, there is a
décor specific to the Day of the Dead : a cross covered
with orange flowers and pasteboard pilgrims, dressed in real monk
or nun suits. The pilgrims seem to be praying in front of this
In Huaquechula convent, looking at offerings on the altar, we
are told that you go shopping on October 31st and at noon, you
would set up the offerings for the children deceased during the
past year. On November 1st, you would set up the offerings for
the adults and on November 2nd, you would visit the graves, clean
them and decorate them with flowers and candles.
There are three kinds of offerings : one dedicated only to the
soul, another one to the “old” dead, these two offerings
being minor offerings, and the third one, the most important one,
dedicated. The decorated altar is 3 m high and 3 to 5 m wide.
In some hotels of Mexico City
could find a “tour “ to go to Mixquic, which is one
of the places where the Day of Dead assumes a specific interest.
After more than two hours driving from the Historic
center of Mexico City, through narrow roads, we arrive in a
small village crowded with people. We have to park the car. The
driver bargains and finds a place in someone’s garden.
From there, starts a hallucinating spectacle. We cross the village
walking. The village is transformed into a huge fair with all kind
of food and drink booths. It is a cacophony ! People swarm about
from everywhere !
We arrive to the lighted church and its cemetery. We stop in front
of a guard who checks that we aren’t carrying any food or
drink. It is not allowed anymore because once some people were drunk
and impaired the graves decorations. So the graves are decorated
only with flowers and candles (they set up the food offerings on
an altar at home). As soon as we enter the cemetery, it is magic
! People are in a single line and even if they are talking, there
is a feeling of silence, serenity. It is an unbelievable contrast
with the party atmosphere on the other side of the gate. The graves
are weighted down the flowers, candles and … people.
People march among the graves in a relative order and calmness.
Families sit on the grave to spend the evening with their departed.
A man discreetly cries on another grave. The floral decorations
are in themselves an ART. The orange color offers
an atmosphere of serenity, calmness and well being. We linger also
close to the garden and the statues of the personages of the bones
legend in the small archeological site adjoining the church. Then,
we plunge back in the light, noise, odors and crowd. We stop at
a booth where the driver buys a non-alcoholic punch made from fresh
herbs, in order to warm us up.
The party goes on the whole night : after remembering the dead,
they celebrate the joy of being still alive.
In Mixquic, you could also ride “ tajineras”
through the canals like in Xochimilco.
In conclusion, Mixquic is a magic place. It is
a unique experience but you can’t go by yourself. There are
no signs and when the driver asked our destination, he was given
indications, meaning something for him, because he knew the region.
You have to go there on November 2nd and ask to leave Mexico City
around 9:00PM (evening). The cemetery closed just after our visit
Two weeks before the Day of the Dead, there is
already an out of the ordinary atmosphere. In the markets, people
are buying French marigolds called flowers of « cempasuchitl
» a symbol of this fiesta, ingredients for the indispensable
dishes for the offerings and ornamentation for the graves.
The Day of the Dead, on November 1st and 2nd, is a traditional Holiday
that celebrates more the death of those in your close neighborhood
than the loss of loved ones. The dead are celebrated with noise,
food, crackers, alcohol, wreaths, popular songs (corridos)
and a lot of tears in order to let the deceased know that they are
not forgotten and they were not alone during their lifetime. In
each house, the family prepares the altar of the dead, adorned with
lighted candles, full of presentations, offerings, personal objects,
skulls with the name of the deceased on them and food. In the main
room, on a table covered with an embroidered tablecloth or a cut
out paper, the portraits of the deceased are placed.
on November 1st that the alive take care of the dead. It
is the Vigil of the Little Angels (Velacion de los Angelitos).
People spend the day cleaning, pulling away the weeds, repainting
the crosses, and arranging the orange or bloody red flowers.
At sunset, everything is ready; the cemetery shines, all
the graves are covered with petals of cempazuchitl. On every
grave, a candle and dozens of night-lights define the family
space; in the middle or at each corner, a varnished black
bowl is reserved for copal, the Mexican incense. The cemetery
is full to bursting point. People climb on graves, apologizing
and patting a widow’s shoulder. A supernatural gleam
shrouds the picture. People are all dressed up. The Indians
with their traditional shawls in contrast with the teenagers
with their fashionable clothes (mini skirts or pants) and
make up, who look bored in such a traditional place. At
dawn, the priest of the village, followed by a chorus of
virgins gives his blessing to every deceased. The rooster
crows. The families scatter.
To inform visitors, there is sometimes a text about the deceased
that reminds visitors of the titles, the acts of glory and the specific
tastes of the deceased. On the table, the family of the deceased
carefully organize the traditional French marigolds, the sugar skulls
(the skulls symbolize both death and rebirth), the bottles of tequila,
some corn ears, fruit, rosemary soup, avocados, in short everything
to awake the hungry dead. A trail of petals goes from the altar
to the street through the whole room. It will guide the souls from
the cemetery to the family house.
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