Thursday, October 28, 2010

Day of the Dead, Dia de los Muertos

Halloween time is just about upon us and once again I'm filled with the urge to eat candy, stab pumkins and dress up like a ho-skank. I LOVE HALLOWEEN!! This is my third Halloween in Mexico and I'm always pleasantly surprised by the decorating that goes on here along with the costumes and rediculous amounts of candy in the stores.

Even more enticing
is the presence of the Mexican Tradition of the Day of the Dead on November 1st. I've tried in years past to observe as much as possible about this new-to-me holiday but besides dragging my husband to the cemetary to see the festivities and spying in a neighbors window at their alter I've come up rather short.

This year is different though and I'm psyched!!

This year I'm a teacher in a Mexican school and they try hard to make the main focus of this time of year on their Mexican holiday. They know the kids will celebrate Halloween but they're trying damn hard to push their traditional holiday down their throats.
All over the school the walls are decorated with skulls and skeletons and tommorow the school will have it's own huge alter for the kids to view.

The faculty asked us teachers to talk about The Day of the Dead as much as possible and I took it as a great opportunity to find out the REAL DEAL about the holiday from real Mexicans. In each class I pulled my Gringa-card and told the kids that I don't know anyting about the holiday and asked if they would please fill me in. What a trip!

Almost ALL of the kids and their parents celebrate the holiday by building an alter and leaving out (usually for their dead grandparents) the favorite foods of their dead relatives. One kid said that when they go to his Grama's grave they leave a big bottle of Coke and at their Grampas grave leave a 6-pack of Tecate! (beer) LMAO - I love it!

I've always been curious about what the family does with the food that they leave for the spirits to ¨eat¨ when they come for their visit - the day after in the morning. I broached the subject as carefuly as possible wondering if it's like Santa's cookies or Easter bunny carrots but aparently in Mexico parents don't pretend to eat it. The kids themselves lol said that they are usually the ones to eat everything the next day! One mystery solved.

I asked the kids if they feel that the holiday conflicts with their religion (Catholics and Christians) but they all overwhelmingly said NO! They said this day is a tradition in their culture and that it makes no offense to religion. That surprised the hell out of me considering the alter building and believing that sprits will be coming back to walk the earth - but whatever - Mexicans are cool like that.

It's such a beautiful holiday with all of the fun treats, flowers, candles and remembering and talking of loved ones passed. I myself this year will for the first time be building a teeny alter in honor of my Grandmother. Candles, skulls, her shawl, her giant owl lamp, some flowers and her favorites Sprite and Wheat Thins will be laid out for her to munch on. I'm excited to take pictures and send them to my Mom.

Anyhoo, we'll be dressing my lil piggy up as a fat lil bumblebee and carting her around to the family on Halloween to show off - like any first time parents. Come Nov. 1 though we'll be celebrating our newest holiday and I'm truly excited! :


MaryLuna said...

Thanks for writing about Dia de Los Muertos, even though I am Mexican I really didn't know much about it. I asked my mom and she didn't know much about it either. Apparently my grandma became a Christian (Apostolic) when my mom was young and never celebrated anything like that because she thought it was of the devil- just like Halloween, Christmas decorations, and Disney, lol (something about some preacher preaching that once and anything someone preaches she tends to believe- including get this... not being able to take communion if you had sex like 3 days before- who comes up with these things?).

Fortunately, my mom is not so hardcore as my grandma anymore (thank God she changed to a Baptist church). Unfortunately, it didn't happen until I was older so I only got to dress up for halloween 1 time without being condemned to eternal damnation. :( Before that I would spend Halloween at church watching a video about how Halloween is really a holiday for Satan (note to self: remember to talk about that with my therapist next time, lol).

Anyway, thanks again! Now I feel like I should have a little altar for my boyfriend that passed away last year with some of his favorite foods ... but at the same time I think my mom would kinda freak, and my grandma would definitely have a heart attack and call my uncle who is a pastor to come exorcise me or something, lol.


Gail said...

Aw that's so sweet to remember your grandma on this holiday. My grandma sewed doll clothes for me and made the best chicken n dumplings and chocolate pie in the whole world. She was born in 1899 and died in 1997. I'm going to remember her now for this holiday. I'm getting all teary thinking of her. Thanks for this neat post Lindy.


This is my first time experiencing this holiday here in Mexico. I am getting really excited as well. My husbands family will be having their offerenda (sp?) at our house this year because we have more space. They will be coming over soon to set up the alter and decorate. Both of my grandfathers will have their spot on the alter this year along with my husbands family. It just warms my heart to know that I am going to be a part of this this year. BTW I love how you pull the Gringa-card on the kids. Have a great time tomorrow.

Upstate Broad said...

Dia De Los Muertos wouldn't conflict with the Catholic religion, I believe it actually grew out of it. The day after Halloween is known in the Roman Catholic church as All Saints Day, or if you were born before 1950, All Soul's Day. It's a day to honor the dearly departed. Hence, the Day of the Dead, and all the little shrines. They've made some interestingly macabre twists, but it's essentially the same holiday. I'm not a believer any more, but it's nice that all that money my parents spent on 12 years of Catholic school didn't go totally to waste!

Gringa-n-Mexico said...

Mar - lol, just don't tell them about it ;D And I think it would be a lovely thing for you to do, it seems, from what I've witnessed so far that it's very much a holiday for the family as well as the dead, a way to remember. :)

Gail - I'd love to hear if you do something for your Gramma, maybe you could make some chicken 'n' dumplings!! Oh that sounds SO good about now! :)

Jill - OH! You're SO LUCKY to be right there in the middle of everything! You'll truly get what it's all about up front and personal - good luck dodging the spirits that'll be walking your halls!

Upstate - It's got even more history and roots than you'd imagine. Traditions from Spain and even their Aztec roots come into it. It's really neat how so many influences come together :)

Fned said...

Loved this post! I'm a Mexican born and bred but we never celebrated el Dia de los Muertos at home because a) my mom is american and my dad was spaniard so it wasn't really a tradition when they were growing up and b) we never had any Muertos to set up ofrendas to (and I thank my lucky heavans that all my loved ones were nice and living when I was growing up). But I always did love watching my class mates and friends set up ofrendas in their own homes and schools and I always envied them having that tradition come so naturally to them.

Fast forward to today where a) I am no living in Europe and feeling major homesickness and craving to smell some sempatchulli flowers and b) having lost a dearly loved on (my dad) last year...

Might be just the occasion to set up a little ofrenda in our place this weekend..... :)

Have fun during this weekend festivities and enjoy the Pan de Muerto (that's my favorite part!).


P.S. Am so LOVING your blog! Keem 'em posts coming!!

Anonymous said...

I used to think Day of the Dead was against my religion (Christian), but after a few years, I'm cool with it.

I don't think most people believe the spirit actually comes to visit (although I'm sure some do)... it's more of a way to remember them.

Larry Prater said...

I think the Days of the Dead are my favorite holidays here in Mexico. Better than Christmas, even. And here in Tepoztlan they really discourage any hint of Halloween. Halloween is scary, Day of the Dead is to honor and bring back the loved ones who have died. I think it is a better concept.
Remember to put marigolds on your altar, the dead need the scent to find their way back.

Mary C said...

Dia de los Muertos is very big here where I live in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Today the street in front of the cemetery was full of vendors selling golden marigolds and red celosia, the two main flowers of the celebration, plus roses and big mixed arrangements. Families were purchasing these flowers and transporting them inside the cemetery to their family gravesites.

We walked around inside watching people carefully cleaning and decorating the graves. There were several mariachi bands taking requests. The place was so full of music, color, life, and beauty, much less somber than Memorial Day in the states.

I love this celebration. Being raised Unitarian I don't worry about the religious aspects of it. I just love taking one day out of the year to remember all those who have passed, my mom, my dad, my husband, grandparents, etc. I put their pictures, my husband's favorite coconut treats, lots of flowers and candles, and create a remembrance altar on top of the TV cabinet. Seeing it reminds us to tell funny stories of things that happened with them and in general to feel a communion with them again. It's a beautiful thing.

Anonymous said...

I love that beer and Coca-cola are put on ofrendas and graves for Día de Los Muertos. I'm sure you get to hear all kinds of hilarious things from the kids you teach.

I also wondered what happened to the food, etc - so I learned something new :) Great post! I like your blog.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately I won't be in Mexico in time for the Day of the Dead next year so I really loved your descriptions about what it's all about. :D