Saturday, November 8, 2008

Day of the Dead, Nov. 1, 2

"Calaverita, calaverita!" demanded a young boy, dressed in plain clothes. I replied, "No te entiendo, mi amor." Two seconds later, he blurted out the word in English, "Candy!" Irma turned to me and reaffirmed what he had said, "The boy wants candy." She later explained that since calavera (skull) plays such a prominent role in Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) that it is the word for candy during the festivities.

Irma and I bundled up and went to the Zocalo, the historical center of Mexico City, on Saturday night to celebrate the first day of Día de los Muertos. They say that November 1st is designated to the young ones who have passed away, as their spirits come running back faster than the adults. We ploughed our way through the crowds, sipping on scalding, hot, fruity punch with sugar cane stirrers while admiring the ofrendas (offerings) displayed on the altars (altares). The offerings were filled with the deceased’s favorite foods and drinks, marigolds, candles, photographs, skulls and other ornaments. I was told that the candles are used to guide the souls by light, where as the purpose of the marigolds is to guide them by its strong, distinct scent.

On the second night, we layered up again and went down to Coyocan to see more ofrendas. There was one main offering that was put together to make a statement against the government's proposition to take down the tianguis, or independent street vendors. Coyocan is known for its bohemian ambience and its free-spirited artists who sell all sorts of arts and crafts. As there was only one offering, we walked around admiring the children’s' costumes instead. The tin man was by far my favorite. In the plaza, parents accompanied their children as they went around asking for calaveritas. In Mexico -I imagine for safety reasons-little ones go to public places to ask for candy, rather than door-to-door.

It was interesting to see how an old tradition of paying respect to the dead has survived over the years and has integrated into today's Americanized Mexican culture. For example, Pizza Hut had ofrendas. The food of choice at an ofrenda in the Zocalo was a hamburger and juice box. I would argue that the holiday has not lost its original meaning, rather it has adapted to the times, for good or for worse.

Lastly, I found Día de los Muertos to be very powerful, as people took the weekend to celebrate and reminisce about their loved ones who have moved on. It is not necessarily a time for mourning, but rather a weekend set aside to share memories, eat good food, bring families together and appreciate the temporary life here on earth and the eternal lives of our deceased loved ones.

1 comment:

Alicia said...

love that you're blogging :) i miss you dearly..mexico sounds amazing. wish i could come visit :(