La noche de los muertos
It’s now November 3 and the celebrations for the Day of the Dead and the following All Saints Day are now over.
The experience was profound, rich, unique. Celebrations such as occur here don’t happen anywhere else in the world. Other places in Mexico celebrate but the indigenous people from Michoacan and particularly here in the environs of Patzcuaro have the most elaborate festivities.
Families gather in the graveyards, which they call panteones, all night long. The village of Ijuatzio, where I spent the later part of the night, has a cultural event that features dancers, singers and bands from the area. Great folk art presentations. Artisans from all of villages in Michoacan known for artesania come to the city of Patzcuaro for the huge market where they sell ceramics, copper ware, wooden statues, fabrics and an abundance of fabulous
kitsch. I needed a far larger suitcase and copious amounts of bubble wrap to accommodate all the fabulous “stuff” I wanted to buy. As it is, my suitcases are overstuffed with what I did succumb to buying. Outside of the graveyards, vendors sell typical foods and candy in a chaos of activity. People come and go all night long.
Being in the graveyards at night is magical. I visited three, each one illuminated by hundreds of candles. Each one busy, with families congregating to remember their dead ancestors. Some of the graves are adorned with elaborate constructions scrupulously constructed in thousands of marigold flowers, others are simple vases of marigolds or lilies. Crosses, images of Mary and Jesus abound. Incense from the palo santo (I can’t remember what it’s called in English) wafts in the air, imbuing the atmosphere with another nuance of indigenous culture, mingled with catholicism.
Sometimes a solitary figure sits motionless by the grave. I attempted to speak with one old man, who wasn’t responding. The couple next to him told me he was deaf and he was mourning his wife and his daughter. He was alone in the world. I did manage to communicate him eventually with a series hand gestures. He was alone, yes, but he was surrounded by his community. And that is perhaps the beauty of such a ritual. People are bound by connections greater than family.They are recognized as part of a larger tribe or community and there is great solace in that.
Grandmothers, husbands, aunts and kids all chip in to build their alters at the graveyard and in their homes. Then they celebrate together. Along with those reflecting alone by the grave side, were families that laughed heartily. With every new utterance new gales of laughter burst forth.Everyone was amiable, happy to chat and share a story about the ancestors they’ve lost. Or about the ritual they practise each year.What a rewarding experience. I am truly blessed to have partaken of it.