It’s been over two weeks since the Day of the Dead festivities took place, but even though late, I think it’s still worth posting anyway.
Despite it’s name, Dia de los Muertos or the Day of the Dead is a two days holiday celebrated throughout Mexico on November 1st and 2nd. Related to globally renowned Catholic religious holidays of All Saints and All Souls, in Mexico it is also a National Holiday. Unlike the USA, where the tradition is almost non-existent (not to confuse with Halloween) or Poland where the events are very serious, mournful and dark, in Mexico the celebrations are very cheerful and vivid. Even though adopted by Christians, the tradition actually dates back to the indigenous cultures, and in particular to the ancient Aztec rituals and festivals dedicated to the goddess called Mictecacihuatl. Like in Poland, people go to cemeteries to commemorate the dead, but that’s about all in terms of similarities. Day of the Dead in Mexico is a joyful holiday. People use food, fruits, memorabilia and tons of colorful paper to build offering altars, not only for their loved ones, but also for well known celebrities and public figures. Only the deceased ones, of course.
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Since we’ve arrived in San Miguel three days before the holiday, we had an opportunity to see not only the parades on the day of the holiday, but also to witness all preparations. As already mentioned above, the most distinct feature of the day are altars. While walking around town, we’ve came across many altars dedicated to local patrons, saints, but we’ve also spotted a few build for John Paul II and… Steve Jobs.
Technically speaking, the term Dia de los Muertos or Dia de los Difuntos (both mean the Day of the Dead) is only applicable to November 2nd, as this is the day to commemorate deceased adults. It sounds a little creepy, but the first of November is solely dedicated to children and therefore called Dia de los Inocentes (Day of the Innocents) or Dia de los Angelitos (Day of the Little Angels). The adults get bottles of tequila, the children get toys and favorite candies on their altars and on their graves. Sugar skulls and Pan de Muerto (bread of the dead) are easily available everywhere around town.
In different parts of San Miguel de Allende there were many festivities, most of them unannounced and rather spontaneous. As an example, on Sunday, the day before Dia de los Angelitos, we were touring the Centro. We have spent an entire afternoon walking around the aged downtown, admiring beautiful buildings, churches, museums and restaurants. Finally, when we got tired of these tourist attractions, we returned home. Entering our Colonia (district of town or neighborhood) we’ve spotted people dancing in front of a bone stone church in a very poor neighborhood. From a distance it looked like a wedding ceremony, but when we got closer we realized that something was off.
First it was the music. Even though I really don’t speak Spanish, I quickly figured the meaning of “Me gusta Marijuana”, repeated in a chorus over and over to the distinct rhythm of drums in a folk song played by local superstars. Then, there were the dancers. Men and women dancing, or rather moving rhythmically in a large circle on the top of the hill were wearing all kinds of silly, scary and plain creepy costumes. There were rock stars, skeletons, old farts and all kinds of other disguises. The scene was rather surreal, but since we were really on our last legs, we decided to call it a day.
When we turned a corner, there was another surprise. A group of men, dressed in some sort of traditional Indian costumes was dancing to the rhythm of their large drums around a small fountain in a little square adjacent to the poor church…
The most amazing was that there were no tourist around…!