Sunday, November 13, 2016

Dia de Los Muertos in San Miguel..the Land of the Living Dead!

One of the most significant cultural holidays in San Miguel and Mexico in general, is the celebration of Dia de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, and the town comes alive to honor the dead! Many gringos think the day is a Mexican version of our Halloween and in some ways this is true, but to really understand the significance of this holiday, one must delve deeper into the fundamental beliefs of the Mexican people. 

Many Mexicans are people of deep religious beliefs, and although the 16th century Catholic Spaniards tried to suppress the celebration due to its pagan roots, the tradition has survived and was eventually embraced by the government and declared a national holiday. Originally celebrated in the ninth month of the Aztec calendar, it began in early August and lasted most of the month. Over time it morphed into a celebration that coincided with the Catholic observance of All Saints Day. While many cultures including our own celebrate a similar event, what sets the day apart from Halloween for instance is the deeply held belief that their dead relatives are still here and have simply moved on to a different stage or plane of life. 

In their homes, throughout the town, and in the cemeteries, the families construct shrines to honor and remember the dead. The shrines are often elaborate and include photos and mementos, as well as offerings of food and drink. The families gather at the shrines and celebrate the lives, not the deaths of the loved ones as if they were still with them. Some of the graves even have tubes built in to them where these offerings can be given directly to the deceased. In some of the more remote villages, the families go as far as to disinter the deceased, replace their garments, and after a toast, return them to their next life.

Although it is called the Day of the Dead, the celebration actually stretches out over several days with November 1st being focused on the dead children and the 2nd for the adults. In addition to the graveside visits and shrines, there are fireworks, parades, and religious ceremonies going on around the clock. The Mexican people love a good fiesta, and Dia de Los Muertos is no exception!

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the graveyard, a stroll through the shrines spread strategically around the square, a raucous fireworks display, and culminating in a vibrant and colorful parade. In the early evening, a large thunderstorm and brilliant lightning display descended upon the festivities threatening to dampen the crowd’s enthusiasm, but they would not be dissuaded from celebration. After a brief but violent storm that did its best to wash away the elaborate shrines, the storm subsided and the people continued to celebrate well into the wee hours.

If you plan to visit San Miguel in the future, timing it with Dia de Los Muertos is a beautiful way to celebrate the joy of life!

Click on any photo to enlarge!

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