Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Day of the Dead - Different Traditions throughout Mexico

Cemetery in Mixquic on Nov. 2
While I'm hardly an expert, and my experience with the varying traditions of the Day of the Dead is limited, I've heard of a few interesting traditions that I feel are worth sharing.  If you are not Mexican, I'm sure these will be intriguing; if you are Mexican, I'm sure you will know a lot more, but read on anyway, and maybe you can add, expand or correct in the comments section below.

In the first post I wrote on the topic yesterday, I described the traditions in small village at the edge of Cuernavaca, which is just south of Mexico City (click here to read).  I've heard that even within the state of Morelos, the small state surrounding Cuernavaca, that there are variations in traditions.

Mixquic, Mexico City

Just a little north, at the south end of Mexico City, there is a very famous and strong tradition in a community called Mixquic in the borough of Tlahuac, not far from Xochimilco (which is famous for its canals, gardens and the colouful boats which visitors can hire for tours of this area.)  The traditions are very similar to those described in Ocotopec in my post yesterday but involves a larger community.  On November 2, in the afternoon, the church bells ring, and a large portion of the population, as well as visitors, make their way to the cemetery in a large procession, where they light the candles at the graves.  The sight is spectacular, and the experience is inspiring.

Lake Pascuaro, Michoacan

Janitzio on the Day of the Dead
Last night, two neighbors were telling me about a very special procession in the central Mexican state of Michoacan, about 4 hours northwest of Mexico City.  In a large lake near the state capital (Morelia) there is an island called Janitzio, which can be identified by the large statue of Jose Maria Morelos, a hero of Mexico's war of independence.  On November 2, the procession to the cemetery for many locals around the lake involves travelling by boat across the lake to the island, which is also an incredible experience.

Yucatan Peninsula

I know that on the Peninsula is cities like Merida, people also make their altars and have similar traditions.  The Mayan people, who are still a very distinct native group in the area, celebrate their own version of the tradition called Hanal Pixán.  I don't know much about the celebration, but I believe that the authentic celebration can probably only be found in small villages.  One of these days, I'll ask a Mayan priest about it, who owns a variety store at the other end of town.

In Playa del Carmen, where I live now, the traditions are weaker, I guess mostly because the people here have come from all over Mexico, and no longer share neighbors with the same traditions.  On Oct. 29 there was a parade down the main tourist street with children and teens from the local schools dressed in costumes related to the Day of the Dead, which was nice.
Parade in Playa del Carmen

One of the nearby theme parks, Xcaret, does a fairly good job of presenting Mexico's culture, history and traditions to tourists, and has a special presentation for the Day of the Dead, which includes music, altars and a reconstruction of a traditional cemetery with the procession.  There is also food and music, and each year they present specific traditions from a different region - I think this year it's Chiapas.  I've heard the presentation is very good, and if you're ever down here, it would be worth the visit.

However, my personal recommendation is is to participate in one of the community traditions if you can.  Instead of just seeing and taking pictures, you can take part, leave candles for the deceased and accompany the family; it may not be appropriate to take pictures, but sometimes, if you know the people, it might be OK.  In any case, you gain an experience - if a picture is worth a thousand words, an experience is worth a thousand pictures. (I guess photographers might not agree ...)

If you're not Mexican, and you visit during this time, find someone who knows the traditions and knows how you can participate.  Many Mexicans are eager to share their traditions with friends from other countries.

If you want to read yesterday's blog, an introduction to my experience of the Day of the Dead, click here.
Tomorrow, I'll  talk about some of the symbols involved. (Click here to read.)

No comments:

Post a Comment