Saturday, November 30, 2013

Día de los muertos

I would like to share with you some of my experiences with the celebration of Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead here in Tepoztlán.... A little late, but better than never! I want to preface this first by saying that as in most traditions I can only speak for Tepoz and for my particularly family that I live with. Celebrations, has everywhere, vary greatly pueblo to pueblo and in the different areas of Mexico.

It is traditionally celebrated the November 1-2 and is a fusion of pre-hispanic celebrations and All Saints Day. I have found this tradition to be very beautiful. Thursday afternoon I sat outside of the office drinking my coffee and eating my pan de los muertos and one of my coworkers shared with me more about this celebration (I'm paraphrasing):

I enjoy it more than Christmas, she told me. It’s the smells and the colors. Later in the evening we walked through the zólcalo or town center and saw all the chilacayotes (explained later) and marigolds used to cover the graves and ofrendas. They were selling candles and dishes and food. The perfume of the flowers filled the area and I could see why the colors and smells meant so much to my co-worker.

Many people in the pueblo place an “ofrenda” in their house for your loved one(s). In this ofrenda they include flowers (mostly marigolds), food (that their loved ones enjoyed), fruit, drinks, tequila, papel picado, and a picture of the person. The idea is that at noon on the 1st the loved ones return and stay for twenty-four hours. It’s one day that you get to feel close to your loved ones again. My coworker continued to explain. The first few years are really painful, but then it becomes something that is really beautiful
The ofrenda at the bus station
The ofrenda at a local preschool
The ofrenda at the house
On the 2nd or the next week, they visit the cemetery and decorate the graves with the flowers and candles from the ofrenda. I was very touched to be able to accompany my host mom to clean and decorate the grave sites of the family. It was a way that I could think about where my host family has come from and to thank God for bringing them into my life. I was also able to think about my grandparents. My grandma Byington was always an adventurous woman and so I thought about how interested she would be in how they do things down here. One day when I return I may stop by her grave and put a marigold cross and share with her all the stories I have from my time here :)

The marigold cross I helped place on a family members grave
El pantéon- the cementary
As I have shared in this tradition I was also able to show pictures from this summer when I went to Iowa and visited family members’ grave sites. In a small way I was able to remember my loved ones and share with them how we celebrate those that are no longer with us. 

Another part of the celebration is “pidiendo calabera” which is when the children go around and ask for candy. The tradition is different from Halloween in that it happens on the first of Novemeber and the children (at least traditionally) do not dress up. They carve their “calavera” (Skull) which is made of chilacayote/Zucchini (not a pumpkin) and walk around WITH it saying “Una limosna para mi calavera” (“A alm for my skull). The interesting thing about Tepoztlán is that they celebrate this twice: first on the 1st of November and then again the next week. I had the pleasure of walking around with the family for almost 4 hours the first time we went out! We had both children and adults of the family and they were very good at making sure that I asked for my candy! 

Chilacayotes at the market
The beginnings of carving my chilacayote
Carving our chilacayotes
Getting ready to go around for candy
These are not very common in Mexico... but I found one!
My host brother with his chilacayote
Walking through the streets to ask for candy 
I heard someone explaining to his daughter once the difference between Halloween and Día de los Muertos. He said that los Muertos is a celebration of death and those that have died. Halloween, on the other hand, is a about fear and terror. I see a lot of similarities with our All Saints Day and Memorial Day, but there are also very many differences that I have enjoyed learning about. There are so many rich smells and colors and a beautiful idea that on these days your loved ones come back to spend time with you. I am very thankful that I was able to experience this celebration this year and to begin to understand a little bit more about how important these days are for many here in my part of Mexico. 

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