When we planned our trip, we weren’t specifically planning to go to Mexico for Dia de los Muertos. In hindsight, having experienced that part of the Mexican culture added a lot of excitement and intrigue to our trip. I haven’t mentioned much about our experiences with the Day(s) of the Dead because I felt it was a beautiful and intricate celebration that deserved its own post.
According to our friends we spent time with on Sunday, the celebration itself actually lasts three days; October 31st to November 2nd. The first day, those who have died in an accident are remembered. The second belongs to the young who have passed on. And, the third is dedicated to adults. Though ancestors are celebrated, those who are remembered are those who you personally knew.
During those days, you erect and alter that includes photos of the remembered, candles and incense, orange marigolds, the favorite food of the deceased, and other skeletal decorations. It is believed that during those days, the spirits of the family members will find their way back to the alter, through the help of the light of the candles and scent of the incense and marigolds. Once there, they will feast on the food offerings and depart in peace.
There are special foods that are made during this time, as well. The pan de muertos or “bread of the dead” is a sweet bread covered in cinnamon and sugar. It is commonly accompanied by arroz con leche, a creamy rice and spice drink that is served warm. We had both of these when we were visiting with Cesar and Claudia and loved them.
Among other traditions, on various nights we also saw people dressing up and painting their faces. I thought this was actually quite beautiful. Some faces were painted quite intricately so that the different sutures and cavities were visible. Their faces were works of art (that I wish I could have photographed more). In addition, while at Xcaret we enjoyed watching performances, sampling food, and seeing the locals getting involved with the celebration. Another night we even came upon some sand sculptures, created by an artist who was honoring his family.
When I first learned about Dia de los Muertos, I thought it seemed a little eery because of the emphasis on death. However, having taken part and experienced it, I have a new found appreciation for the holiday. It is a very special way to remember those you loved, and to help you remember your family heritage.