A Day in the Life of Day of the Dead

What began several thousand years ago among the indigenous peoples of Mexico, Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), November 2nd on the calendar, has since grown to become an enormous fusion of pre-Hispanic and Christian religious traditions – a colorful explosion of life-affirming joy meant to demonstrate love and respect for dead loved ones. In this gringa’s long life experience, there’s simply nothing like it.

If you haven’t already enjoyed the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico, you simply must plan a trip for this time next year. But in the meantime, to seduce you into making those travel plans, I’ll share some sights, sounds, and smells from my Day of the Dead walkabout yesterday here in glorious San Miguel de Allende.

In addition to the pungent fragrance of marigolds everywhere (meant to attract the souls who are coming this way for a brief visit), the sweet scent of freshly baked pan de muerto, or bread of the dead (brioche), shaped in the form of skulls and bones, wafts from local bakeries to tempt the still-living:

Bread of the dead (brioche) at my local bakery, Panio

Catrinas (see my previous WOW, “The Catrinas are Coming!”) can be seen all over town. This one, along with her consort, is regally observing the street scene below:

Face painters set up shop along the streets, allowing willing subjects’ faces to resemble bedazzled skulls for a day:

Altars, or ofrendas, are the centerpiece of this celebration, designed to honor the dead and invite their spirits back to partake in their favorite foods and drinks:

At the San Juan de Dios cemetery
A section of one ofrenda, showing the couple’s favorite drinks (Pepsi and tequila) in the San Juan de Dios cemetery
The San Miguel chapter of PEN International made an altar to honor the Mexican journalists who were murdered this year

Outside the San Juan de Dios church, where most of the altars were set up this year, schoolchildren performed for the large and appreciative audience of locals and visitors:

In the Jardin (SMA’s main plaza), I met up with some visitors who’d come all the way from Australia for this celebration. They were part of a group led by artist Kerri Ainsworth, of Art Travel Adventures, which, according to its website, is a boutique art and travel company that “combines immersive cultural experiences with art workshops in exotic locations” (www.arttraveladventures.com.au ). Kerri is a longtime friend of Meagan Burns, who has a similar art-adventure-travel company based in San Miguel, Art Leap Adventures (www.artleapadventures.com ).

Meagan (left) and Kerri in the Jardin
Two of the women in the art group from Australia who joined San Miguel’s Urban Sketchers (part of the international organization) for sketching in the Jardin

Colorful “pierced”paper flags (papel picado) flying above the streets are a common sight here in San Miguel throughout the year, but they are particularly prevalent during this holiday:

“Flags” floating above this mountain town

Today, November 3rd, I’m sure all the bread of the dead has been eaten, the marigolds have wilted, the Catrinas have returned to their respective closets, and the face paint has been washed off. But the paper flags, symbolizing the fragility of life, will likely remain.

8 thoughts on “A Day in the Life of Day of the Dead”

  1. Thank you Bonnie for giving me the flavor of Dia de Los Muertos in SMA — where my little apartment was empty for the festivities I had hoped to experience! See you soon. Abrazos

  2. The Days of the Dead were the funnest, most moving, colorful, and joyous celebrations I’ve experienced in San Miguel. The Catrinas were works of art. And being there while families tended the graves of their loved ones…….well……

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