DAY OF THE DEAD ALTARS IN DIFFERENT PARTS OF MEXICO
It is essential to mention that even though Mexicans make big celebrations of the Day of the Dead, they do not worship the dead; they remember their dead, just like there is a Remembrance Day in Canada a Veteran’s Day and a Memorial Day in the US.
Last week I wrote about the origin of All Souls Day and the Day of the Dead and how the indigenous people celebrated the festivities in the times of the conquest, in more recent years and nowadays.
There are very famous sites where the celebration has become world-known. In Michoacan, the Purepecha have the genuine belief that the souls of the dead will arrive at that night; all the graves in the cemetery in JANITZIO, an island in the middle of the Lake of Patzcuaro, have an altar, with cempasuchil orange flowers, candles for each soul and assorted types of food.
There is another town in Michoacan called TZIN-TZUN-TZAN, where there is an archeological site that used to be the Capital of the Purepecha Empire. Tzin-Tzun-Tzan is also famous for the altars on that night.
Many of the tombs do not have tombstones, so they arrive early and fix the soil in layers, so they can place the candles and flowers and the food they take for their relatives.
As most of the colonial cities in Mexico, they hold the tradition of setting altars for the dead, and Oaxaca is no exception.
There is a little town called SANTA CRUZ XOXOCOTLAN, where the tradition varies a little. On the 31st of October at eleven p.m., a procession departs from the Santa Elena de la Cruz church (Saint Helena of the Cross) carrying the image of Saint Sebastian.
People arrive at the old cemetery behind the first chapel built in the XVI century; during the procession, the villagers pray and sing. The missionaries and natives participated in constructing this temple, built between 1535 and 1555, with adobe and reeds.
After many years, the temple did not survive several earthquakes because of its feeble construction, and it was abandoned to a new temple, better built. Still, the villagers started extending the cemetery into the building of the old church. They also put on the floor colorful sawdust carpets.
They mainly cook black mole. (Oaxaca has seven different moles, a sauce made with various hot peppers, and species). They also put oaxaqueñan desserts, like a pumpkin with molasses, “tejocote” chocolate and bread of the dead; they adorned the graves with flower arches and many candles.
In Mexico City, there are two famous places to see altars on this day. The ANAHUACALLI (house of Anahuac), which used to be Diego Rivera’s house, is a lava
stone big building in Coyoacan, a demarcation south of Mexico City.
After Frida Kahlo passed away, Diego married one more time with Emma Hurtado, (his fourth marriage) at first; she was his friend and confidant; afterward, she became his wife and the best promoter of his work. They were married for twenty years; she started putting a big altar on the day of the dead for Diego; as
far as I can remember, we would visit this place. The Anahuacalli is a museum nowadays, and they still put the altar for Diego.
It is worth seeing.
Diego Rivera’s altar
THE ALTARS IN THE INDIO FERNANDEZ HOUSE
I mentioned the Indio Fernandez in Milestones dedicated to the Mexican Movies stars. He posed for the Oscar statuette and lived in the US for many years.
When he came back to Mexico, he lived in Zaragoza 51 in Coyoacan. The house is now a museum, and for the Day of the Dead, they put 60 to 80 altars throughout the house each year with a different theme, they usually set altars for deceased Mexican movie stars; it is impressive to see this exhibition for the beauty of each altar, which is different.
MEXICO CITY DAY OF THE DEAD PARADE
This parade is massive; it takes place in the downtown streets, going into the main center. It features giant skeletons, dancers, and mariachis, all with skeleton masks. It became famous because of the movie Spectre.
In ZAPOTLANEJO, they put a display of altars throughout the city with huge catrinas; three to four meters high, they put them all around the town, each scene with a different theme, they also put arches with flowers, altars in every street, it is worth seeing.
THE LAKESIDE AREA
In the lakeside area, each town puts altars on the streets; every year, there are more than 60 altars in CHAPALA; in AJIJIC, there are less, but they lit candles on a mural of skulls, the work of Efren Gonzalez, a local artist.
San Juan Cosala
In SAN JUAN COSALA, they make a big event; there is a ceremony with Michichihuali, the lake’s spirit; she arrives in a boat to the boardwalk and walks to the central plaza, with dancers, drummers, and other musicians. At the plaza, she goes up to the pavilion, and there she makes an offering. The pavilion ornamented with cempasuchil flowers; you see people dress-up as catrinas.
Mexico is a family-oriented country, who value family ties and at the same time, they are creative and are a colorful country. When you visit Mexico and all these places during all these festivities, you have no other option than admire and fall in love.