What a weekend of colour!
We arrived back in San Miguel de Allende just in time to see how Halloween was celebrated. We had been told that candy is distributed in Jardin Allende so we walked up at dusk to check it out.
Since Halloween is the day before Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead), there were many little Catrinas and Catrins along with scary clowns and other crazy characters. Dressing up wasn’t restricted to the kiddos, either. Many adults were testing out their Día de Muertos makeup and costumes as well.
In the plaza, adults carry bags of candy, often discreetly, and the kids wander around looking for benefactors to donate to their collection vessels. If one child spots a supply of goodies, several more will follow, with goblins and ghouls swarming the provider.
Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)
The next day, November 1, was the first day of the Día de Muertos (or Día de Los Muertos) celebrations. In San Miguel, it was the day for many parties, costumes and parades. We knew of one parade (but found out later that there were others) and found the route just as the revellers arrived, fronted by a band and accompanied by lots of hollers and occasional songs.
As the small procession passed us, we started to walk behind since we were heading in the same direction. We kept finding ourselves squeezed in among the parade participants as more people joined along the route. We backed out several times to hang against the wall until the parade had passed us by.
Leaving plenty of room, we followed down an alley to a church plaza where tables had been set up along the wall and people were having their faces made up. Just past the makeup tables, colourful ofrendas (altars) had been built to honour the departed.
We would discover ofrendas of all different kinds throughout the city over the next couple of days–in front of churches, in markets, down alleys and in businesses. We walked into one hotel on the afternoon of November 2 and found an artist was still creating a piece–hopefully, it will be usable in future years.
Día des Muertos is about spending time with deceased family members and friends, often in cemeteries. November 1 is the day that dead children are said to visit and November 2 is when the adults show up.
The road on the way to the cemetery was lined with vendors selling everything a family would need to decorate a grave, as well as food and drink for their own refreshment.
Families gather to clean up the graves and decorate them with flowers, papel picado (banners of coloured paper with designs punched into them), tapetes (literally rugs, but these are designs on the ground made from coloured sawdust, beans, and seeds), and the deceased’s favourite food and drink. We had read that makeup and costumes should not be worn to the cemeteries out of respect, so were surprised to see a few people (hopefully just unaware) who showed up this way.
Hanging out at a graveside isn’t about mourning. There are mariachi bands playing, people singing, and others just sitting around in the crowded spaces on and between graves, including the deceased in their family gathering.
We met one gentleman who was quickly decorating the grave of his mother and nephew and then had to rush off to another cemetery to do the same for the grave of his wife. Though he lives in Texas now, every year he makes the trip to San Miguel to do this for his loved ones.
Art Walk and Ofrendas
In San Miguel, on the first Saturday of each month, there is an art walk event at Fabrica la Aurora. November’s event landed on Día de Muertos and so it was billed as an art walk and ofrendas and was quite a party. The location used to be a textile factory and is now a center for art and design–an expansive set of buildings with art studios, galleries, and entertainment spaces, with old manufacturing equipment sometimes taking center stage. The art includes sculptures, paintings, jewelry, lighting and furniture, and was as varied as it was good. Though there were many outdoor and indoor places to gather and view the works, it often felt like patrons were there as much to socialize as they were to check out the art. People sat or stood around with glasses of wine or other beverages and caught up with friends with lots of music to keep things lively.
I had thought I would take lots of photos of the costumed over the weekend, but partway through I started feeling a bit odd about it. It seemed to me that those dressing up and carrying on were not of Mexican heritage. I’m not sure if that’s because the events we chose (for example, the parade we followed and the art walk) were expat/tourist-focused and we just didn’t have a chance to see the local celebrations, or if dressing up is not part of the local experience. As much fun as it all is, I would need to do some more research on this before getting involved myself (should we be in Mexico in November again). I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences.