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Day of the Dead
If you have lived in Mexico as I have, the Day of the Dead is an absolutely wonderful time to visit a town such as San Miguel de Allende. This traditional celebration of the dead is not a sad ceremony at all. Families come together to share their fondest memories of the deceased family members. In preparation of the big night and day, the entire town is busy cleaning graves, decorating them with their dead relatives’ favorite foods, brands of alcoholic beverages, candies, and cigarettes. Later in the evening at the cemetery, everyone enjoys singing their loved one’s favorite Spanish songs. Here, death is seen as just a part of life, a returning guest with nothing to fear; the Day of the Dead is about sharing fond memories with friends and family. Not coincidentally, Day of the Dead begins October 31 and ends November 2. Halloween also has its roots in All Saints’ Day.
Bright orange marigold pedals are the calling cards for the departed souls and they decorate the home-made altars. These pedals line the pathways of the Jardin (Plaza) and potted marigold plants adorn every home. It is believed that the pungent and distinctive odor of the marigold leads the souls to their respective families for a visit and a nostalgic get-together between the living and the dead.
The origins of this predominately central and southern Mexican tradition are an interesting mixture of Catholic and Aztec rituals. Of course, the invading conquistadors, as here in New Mexico, brought with their military invasion a slew of new Catholic holidays and traditions, completely alien to the indigenous peoples. As is always the case, the conqueror makes the rules and enforces his religions onto the conquered. However, in Mexico, there was such a disproportionate number of Aztecs to the very small European military and religious presence, a melding of the two religious and traditional culture’s rituals was necessitated. While every effort was made to force the Spanish’s beliefs upon the Aztec, the indigenous peoples found a way to weave the new ways into their old ways.
All Saints Day began in the 4th century in Europe as a day to honor and remember the Saints and those humans who had entered Heaven. In present-day Mexico, the Aztecs also had a day of celebrating their dead, and the Day of the Dead traditions were born. An Aztec festival dedicated to the spirit of the Aztec god Mictecacihuatl is considered the first remembrance of a departed soul in current-day Mexico. From Europe came All Saints’ Eve, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day which all fall during a three-day period. Both cultures shared an appreciation and respect through ceremonies for departed souls, reaching back to souls from past lives. Both were a common tradition of the continuance of someone’s life, and a marriage of these two traditions merged. Now, for instance, the altars for the Day of the Dead feature crosses and the Virgin of Guadalupe as well as skull masks with calavera make-up that came from the ancient Aztec rituals.
Enough history. More to the fun. The young teenagers dress impeccably in tuxedos and evening gowns with calavera skulls painted on their faces. Everyone lines up in the Plaza to be painted by make-up artists to make sure to look their best. The original calavera was a fancily dressed woman of Spanish culture with a parasol. This was a parody of the Spanish ladies who did not deem it respectful to attend and participate in indigenous festivals. The food is fantastic, like during the Fiestas here in Santa Fe. But in Mexico, instead of chimichangas and tacos like here at Fiestas, chocolate and sugar skulls are both eaten and placed around the altars. Light and fluffy chicken tamales with tomatillo-cilantro salsa are served, along with classic chicken breast with Mole (chocolate) sauce. Candied pumpkins and Oaxacan hot chocolate are enjoyed everywhere, at home and in the streets.
Even pets wear skeleton costumes and everyone from babies to old folks participate in the fun. A parade usually closes the celebration, and the most outlandish and fascinating costumes and faces all gather at the Jardin for one last evening of celebration, respect and remembrance of the Dead. We at the Inn on the Alameda serve some of these dishes on the Dead of the Dead and you (while still living) can enjoy your favorite foods, drinks and desserts in our beautiful Agoyo Lounge.
Owner, Inn on the Alameda
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