I love Halloween. For the last 10 years I've dedicated the month of October to costume design and production. It's just so much fun to see what everyone comes up with - and in Boulder, people really know how to celebrate the holiday. So I've been curious - will the sister holiday in Mexico, Dia de Muertos, help ease the pain of missing Halloween with my friends this year?
I learned quickly that DDMuertos is a different holiday than our celebration of Halloween - it's a holiday to honor and remember the departed ancestors. Families will do this by building these alters for their deceased family members. Typically, the alter is placed in the front of the courtyard, where people can view it when the doors of the house are open, but there are very few public alters.
On the alter are pictures of the departed ancestors with beautifully elaborate decorations made of colorful streamers and paper, sometimes there are candles, sometimes (often) there are offerings of these little sugar candies (that I've mentioned before in a previous entry). People in San Miguel have been putting together these alters for the last week (from what I've seen). There is a little tent city near the Mercado San Ignacio where all of the vendors are selling sugar candy for people to leave out for the departed.
In San Miguel, Dia de Muertos kicked off with a massive parade on Friday night, Saturday night was the night for kids to walk around and trick-or-treat. People do dress up here, but everyone has a variation of the same costume - a painted skeleton face (like you can see in the video) and a suit (for the boys/men) or colorful wedding dress (the women). There are very few Elsa characters or Spidermen running around. Then Sunday/Monday (the 1st and 2nd - the two official days of the holiday) are the two days when families gather at the cemetery to clean off the graves of their ancestors, and leave flowers and candy and other offerings.
Today we walked to the cemetery to view the decorated graves. We both did a bit of research to make sure that this would not be considered disrespectful. The street that leads to the cemetery was lined with stalls of vendors selling flowers, food, candy, and candles. Everyone seemed to purchase marigolds above all other flowers for this holiday. When we got to the cemetery there were lines of people holding brooms, candy, lawn chairs, cameras, candles, the works. There was a band playing joyful music. Families gathered around grave sites to clean off the weeds, water the grass, and put down bouquets of flowers. But the tone wasn't sad. It was celebratory. Which was so dang cool. Why not pull up a lawn chair, enjoy some music, and hang out with your whole family while remembering the deceased?
One thing that surprised me at the cemetery was the separate section where all of the expats where buried. I don't know why it didn't occur to me that a town that hosts 10% foreign residents would have some people buried in the cemetery in SMA. I guess I would have assumed that they wouldn't have their own space, that they'd be mixed in with everyone else. We walked through this area and it was quiet, shady, peaceful. There were no loud colors or music. There were no elaborate alters. No one was celebrating.
On our way out we had to take a picture of this alter - it was the most elaborate one! The family started laughing at us for stopping, but this needed documentation. It was too pretty to pass up without stopping for a minute to admire the handiwork and effort that went into all of the decoration.
I asked Spencer what he would put on my alter and he said "an ice cream cone, a picture of Phoenix, and a gift certificate to Zara." He really gets me...