Thursday, November 3, 2011
I begin by offering my overarching lesson learned during these days of holiday for you to think about throughout this entry: the Day of the Dead is really all about what it means to be living.
With some other YAGM, I went last night to Ocotepec, a small municipality very close to Cuernavaca. It took a very long time to figure out where to park because Ocotepec is one of the last places in the country where families who have experienced a death in the family in the past year open their houses to friends, family, and strangers to celebrate the Day of the Dead. Each house welcomes the long line of people in with a path of marigold flower petals, lanterns, endless burning of incense and large arches of more marigolds and streamers. It is customary to present to a family member a candle as a sign of offering, and then each person can take in the beautiful and many times eerie (in my opinion) offering to the lost one. The long lines continue to curve around in the house area and traditional coffee, tea, punch, or atole are served along with tamales – unfortunately all containing meat... There was a tiny folding table outside one of the chapels with handmade signs asking people to purchase their ceramic mugs to use instead of the styrofoam cups that were being discarded everywhere from the rain gutters to the tops of cars. I believe we were the only ones at the table. Anyway, it was so amazing to see the HUGE pots where food and drink were warming over wood fires and observe the hundreds and hundreds of flowers bought to welcome people from near and far. We were welcomed with a smile each time that neither seemed to contain happiness nor sadness, rather a duty of carrying out tradition.
Children, many times carried by their mothers, were trick-or-treating in the streets going from small shop to small shop reciting Spanish sayings and wearing costumes (mostly of skulls, devils, and Chucky). Outside of the large municipality cathedral was a mariachi band singing and playing traditional songs, proudly welcoming everyone to enjoy the town's history. A news reporter suddenly appeared in front of us asking if we were extranjeros (foreigners) and if we would answer a few questions about being here in Mexico. We didn't really know what to say. Then the camera light came on and we decided to take a rain check.
I went with my host family and with a more than healthy dose of Montezuma’s Revenge to a pantión – large and fancy cemetery – today. Such an interesting celebration. The extended family kept asking how our Day of the Dead is different than theirs. It was so difficult for me to explain that this celebration is like a combination of Halloween, Memorial Day, and game day football tailgating. Seriously. Countless families bring picnics and eat them at the site of their deceased one or in the backs of their cars. Kids and adults alike carry large buckets of water and brooms to clean the tombs and grave sites, decorating them with flowers and other offerings. Some are trying to vend food like churros at small stands in the streets. Others sell their cleaning services for the grave sites. Small bands of guitars and accordions wander around and people pull them over to play the favorite song of their lost loved one. Prayers and rosaries are recited. All this is happening at the same time.
One of the many prayers and songs my host family was singing/crying to their deceased mother included the words “We need death to know we are living.” Not sure how I feel about it – truthfully the words rock me and make me want to cry out in protest. But something inside me knows they're right.