It seems odd to see jack-o-lanterns, spider webs, black cats, and witches’ hats on display in the stores and restaurants throughout Guaymas and San Carlos. Día de Muertos, is Mexico’s most popular holiday, and I fully expected that it would have more influence in my little town than it seems to. I have learned, however, that due to Sonora’s proximity to the U.S. border, and greater access to images via television and social media, Halloween has become increasingly popular. Residents in our state, as well as those in many border states, adopt more American traditions There are more Halloween costumes and treat bags on sale at the local Walmart than calaveras, Catrinas, and candles. Día de Muertos is still widely celebrated in the central and southern states of Mexico where there is a greater indigenous presence, and less American influence.
In 2003, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) proclaimed Día de Muertos as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Intangible Cultural Heritage refers to traditions that are passed down through the generations via arts, storytelling, performance, and rituals associated with nature and the universe. I was determined to ignore the Halloween trappings (especially the chocolate) and focus on learning more about and celebrating Día de Muertos.
Hundreds of years ago, the Aztecs celebrated a festival during August in honor of
Mictecacihuatl, a goddess who served as guardian of the dead. After Spanish colonization and due to the influence of the Catholic Church, ancient religious traditions were combined with Catholic ones. Today, the festival coincides with All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day. It is believed that at midnight on October 31 (Día de los Angelitos), the gates of heaven open so that the souls of deceased children come down from above and reunite with their families for a 24 hour period. At midnight on November 1, the souls of deceased adults rejoin their loved ones.
Día de Muertos is not a sad, scary time. The tradition is described beautifully by Christina Preiss when she says, “The first death you die is when you stop breathing, the second when you are buried in the earth, the third is when the last person here forgets you. So this traditions ensures you never die the third death and your family member comes back and is always with you.” Families remember the best of times and the very best of the people they have lost with bright colors, beautiful flowers, candles, incense, music, and favorite foods, drinks, and toys. Many families spend the equivalent of more than two month of their salaries on preparations for this holiday, decorating altars and planning celebrations at grave sites.
One of the most recognizable figures in Día de Muertos festivities is La Catrina. Designed by José Guadalupe Posada in 1910, La Calavera Catrina, became the symbol of the Mexican Revolution and “death” of the privileged class. Today she represents the idea that everyone is equal in death. Catrina Parades and/or Festivales de las Calacas are held in many cities and towns throughout Mexico. By dressing up, participants hope to ward off death, tricking her into believing they are already dead.
And fortunately, in spite of all the Halloween excitement, Guaymas is hosting a Festival de la Calaca this coming weekend! I will continue with this same theme in my next article, sharing information about the elaborate atlars and gravesite visits. But for now, I need to add the finishing touches to my Catrina costume!