Friday, December 9, 2016

LXXXIV. Día de los Muertos

Day of the Dead

The town cemetery, or panteón, the morning after families had
visited and left offerings at the graves of loved ones.
"Day of the Dead"there are several close variations of this name, but all refer to a Mexican religious holiday celebrated on the first and second of every November. This is the time to feel close to loved ones who have died. The memorial usually takes place on the second evening, often at the loved one's gravesite which is newly tended and decorated with flowers and objects of remembrance. Ofrendas, memorial altars similarly arrayed with offerings, are at many houses, both inside and out, as well as in public places, such as plazas and along andadores, public walkways.              

Posada's original "Catrina"
One of the icons of this yearly celebration is calavera, a representation of the human skull, originally of a character named "Catrina", the 100-year old creation of Mexican illustrator, José Guadalupe Posada.

Ofrendas to memorialize some beloved local citizens who had
died during the year.
The event, with its memorial candles, marigolds, papeles picadoras--cut out paper banners with calavera imagessugar skulls and bread de los muertos, captured my imagination over thirty years ago. I liked its irreverent take on death, the acknowledgement that we are all but very similar bones wrapped in a wide variety of skin, muscle and hair. The clothes and mannerisms with which we differentiate ourselves are mocked by the way death levels us. In addition, this uniquely Mexican take on death, which goes back to way before pre-conquest days, makes a comfortable place for it alongside the living--something I don't see up north.

A "Catrina"--one among many made by
local schoolchildren--next to the gazebo
in the center of our village's plaza.
Nowadays, every year at this time Catrinas, whether real people dressed up in make-up and costume, or simply models constructed of papier mâché and paint, are everywhere displaying their useless and amusing vanity. 

In our canon of celebrations
—after the novena for our little Virgin of the RosaryDía de los Muertos comes next in a season of fiestas and events that continues in mid-November with Mexican Revolution Day honoring heroes of the early twentieth century struggle to unseat a dictator and provide greater rights to common people. That butts right up into the Fiesta Patronal—a nine-day (and night) celebration at the end of the month in honor of our village's patron saint. Close on its heels is another nine-day event to honor the patron saint of the nation, our Virgen de Guadalupe. Pentultimately, La Navidad seems like an afterthought or palate cleanser before the festive debauchery of New Years Eve.

Then there's a fairly fallow season until Easter...Oops, but that's forgetting Mardi Gras. We celebrate it, but I haven't yet seen the day referred to as Martes Gordo.

¡Viva México!

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