In Reply to: Day of the Dead, Nov. 1 and or 2 posted by Pat from 22.214.171.124 (smtp.nchmd.org) on martes, agosto 12, 2003 at 14:32:09 :
I agree with Rob on this. In general I've experienced the traditional Day of the Dead activities to be practiced more in the inland areas of Mexico especially Michoacan, Oaxaca, the central highlands... where there are more indigenous people for the most part. There is still some vestige of it here -mostly in the form of decorating the cemeteries and in novenas (9 days of rosary saying for the benefit of and in memory of the difuntos) in the catholic churches. But I was surprised for example to find that many of the children of La Barra didn't even know what an ofrenda was. The one I make in my home every year was the first they had seen.
In Mexico the day of the dead is an important oportunity for people to remember (and in a way be with) their beloved deceased. It used to be practiced for weeks leading up to Nov 1 and 2.
One part of the tradition is to make an 'Ofrenda'. This is an altar with objects that connect to the deceased persons. The ofrendas can be very simle or elaborate. It includes many things sometimes sweet and humorous such as photos of them, favorite objects like musical instruments, bottles of tequila, guitars, sewing machines... whatever they loved to do and their favorite foods. These things (or small models of them like doll furniture) are placed on the altar with decorations like candles, flowers and the famous candied calaveras (skeleton figures sometimes depicting funny things like ladies with parasols, men playing poker... about anything you can imagine).
The idea is to provide for a pleasant visit for the spirits in their old home. This visit officially occurs on Nov 1 and 2. Primarily the visiting occurs in the cementeries which are well decorated for the occasion. In the old traditions people spent the night in the cementery on those nights with bands of musicians playing all night long to provide a sweet and fun ambience for the 'party'.
Rob is right when he says that the tradition is serious in the sense of involving deep feelings of connectedness with deceased loved ones and ancestors. It includes grieving those lost but can be playful and includes happy convivios with them too. It has important spiritual, personal and cultural significance for the people. The tradition of costumed children and candy-giving on Halloween as practiced in the States is related in a way.
I agree with Rob that it is a shame in either case to see a deterioration of the important cultural practices -getting subsumed by a market driven focus on buying things and getting things. This foments greed in children and obfuscates the symbolism - even takes the fun out of it in the end.
When I see kids in costume in Zihua on those days running around 'begging' basically saying 'quiero Halloween! (their way of imitating the American 'Trick or Treat')I chafe even I know they just want to have fun. I am tempted to offer to take them to the cemetery to decorate the graves of their families and put up an ofrenda with them in their homes. Something we do now with the kids in La Barra.
In other area such as Patzcuaro there are important public festivities with traditional dances such as the dance of the old people. These might occur in one of the schools, churches or perhaps on Sunday night at the main zocalo in Zihua.
Another thing that as a tourist you can enjoy during this time (besides if you have the opportunity through an acquaintance to visit a decorated cementery)is the reanactment of Cortez's battles with the indians that takes place in the plaza of La Correa on the night of Oct 31. Impressive for it's authenticity and fun! A guy dresses up as Cortez, another as his horse, another as La Malinche (especially funny in a transvestite kind of way). Cortez has a (wooden) sword and is attacked by 'indians' (whoever wants to give it a try... mostly local men of all ages) who are in possession of only a wooden shield. They really get into it and the people of the community stand around the edges shouting encouragements to the indians. In the background are the wild beating of drums (20 gallon metal drums beaten with sticks) that give an intense and exciting tone to the event. This doesn't have anything to do with Day of the Dead as far as I know and I don't know why it occurs on Oct 31... but asi es.
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