That time of year is upon us. This holiday is pre-Hispanic, although now crossed with Catholic rituals.
People begin preparing a couple of weeks before the end of October. Some traditional aspects, such as making enormous batches of mole, require days of preparation.
Here are some pictures leading up to the actual celebrations. I'll add more in the days to come.
These were taken in the big downtown market on the 20th of October, although items for "Muertos" had begun appearing earlier.
Candy skulls and little altars and caskets made of paper
Sugar skulls and Halloweeny stuff. Look closely at the bags on the right side of the table. They are filled with little flour and water faces to be stuck into the "pan de muertos" before baking. Pan de muertos -- bread of the dead -- is the traditional eggy slightly sweet bread, pan de yema, of Oaxaca. Try to imagine those bags multiplied by the thousands, to supply all the special bread produced at this time of the year.
Skulls made from candied "alegrias" -- popped amaranth seeds
These are some of the larger faces. There must be people working all year round to turn out enough of them, as all the painting and glitter is applied by hand.
Here are some of the molds for making the little faces and images. They are much smaller in real life. The photo is at least double-sized to show detail.
Yesterday I went to Zaachila with two friends. As we waited for the bus to take us there, this truck passed on the other side of the highway.
This is the framework for someones altar, completely covered with marigold (tagetes) flowers.
Marigolds are the flower most closely associated with the days of the dead, an association which may go back to pre-history. Entire graves will be covered with the petals and paths of the petals will lead up to houses in order to guide los fieles difuntos -- the faithful departed -- back to their earthly homes.
And flowers are everywhere in the market -- all different kinds of marigolds and the cockscomb also heavily associated with this time of year.
There were an exceptional number of strolling vendors hawking oilcloth yesterday, as people will need it for setting up altars. The man in the foreground is selling the huge spoons needed for stirring cauldrons of mole.
Incidentally, Zaachila does not really have dirt streets. There is some kind of project going on, so the streets have been torn up.
The jack o'lantern concept borrowed as a marketing device! The real fate of these squash, called tamala, is to be candied in syrup.
Holy cow! We certainly ain't in Kansas anymore! This is absolutely fascinating bixa - I had no idea this kind of thing went on there. What an eye-opener! Thanks so much for this - I'm really looking forward to more!
It looks like a really lovely fun holiday and definitely takes over a category of "life" that most other cultures ignore, so that makes it unique. I was trying to think if there was any sort of celebration of death in France, but I can't think of any. You have to go back to medieval times to find lots of skeleton and grim reaper sculptures (and the grim reaper seems to be absent in Mexico, or am I mistaken?) -- but they date mostly from the times of the Black Death and other big epidemics, during which I suppose it seemed as though death was always around the next corner and most people didn't even live to age 40.
The photos are really magnificent. Food coloring does not appear to have gone out of fashion yet in Oaxaca!
If you want to buy a nice statue of the grim reaper, Mexico is the place to do that. They are very common in herb shops, and I've seen the picture on the plexiglas plate behind bus drivers, always a popular place to feature religious imagery. There is apparently a whole cult around Santa Muerte.
As you see, skeletons are depicted over and over again engaged in regular human activities. Of course it's logical to refer to them as "the dead". My interpretation -- which may or may not be correct -- is that those jolly skeletons are not the dead. Rather, they are us, the living. It's a graphic version of "in the midst of life, we are in death."
Once you think of it that way, then look at a typical picture of animated skeletons, it seems sort of obvious, doesn't it?
I'm so glad you enjoyed the photos. It was certainly fun taking them.
Interesting pictures, Bixa. It's funny that flowers take on different meanings in different parts of the world. I recall from an Indian movie (Monsoon Wedding?) that the wedding celebrations were full of marigolds, whereas they are a symbol of the dead in Mexico. Similarly, a Dutch friend was getting married in October and wanted to decorate the church with chrysanthemums -- her Italian fiancé was horrified, since they are for the dead in Italy, like in France.
This morning at the market, the woman selling chrysanthemums was doing well. There are stands set up outside cemeteries. I bought some to plant in my garden, since they bloom at a time when there is not much else in flower.
Living in Tucson, The Day of the Dead is really prominent here. There are lots of parties and festivals and the paper has advertisements through out it. We have an All Souls Procession which will probably include upwards of 20,000 people. Our grocery stores all stock the various candles, etc. So, as you can see we have a large participation.
When you're chewing on life's gristle[br]Don't grumble, give a whistle[br]And this'll help things turn out for the best...[br]And...always look on the bright side of life...[br]Always look on the light side of life.[br]Monty Python's Life of Brian[br]
quote, Casimira: I was fascinated to learn after my visit to Oaxaca that one of the characters frequently portrayed and one whom you see all over is named "Katrina". She's really quite beautiful.
For a really long time I too thought that was her name. I was surprised to find that she is actually "La Catrina". A catrín is an elegant man or a dandy, and catrina is the feminine equivalent. One of the cards in the Mexican lotería game (sort of like Bingo) is El catrín:
After Hurricane Katrina hit the US Gulf Coast, my landlady said to me, "That poor city, taken by a hurricane named like La Catrina."
A person could almost make a career of collecting Catrina figures, as she is depicted in every way imaginable. A friend of mine has several quite good pieces. It's not an image that ever really grabbed me. It's popular here for young women to dress up like La Catrina during this time of year, and they look wonderful.
I posted this photo quite recently in the Xoxo market thread, but will stick in here. It's a bunch of little Catrinas for sale. (If you look at that thread, there's a video of one of the cemeteries I'll be visiting tonight.)
Bixa, thank you so much for this thread. It is totally fascinating. Please tell me about the prayers and ceremonies that accompany the festivities. There must be many. In Ireland the 31 October was always a 'scary' night with (perhaps) fears of ghosts appearing..or maybe that was my 'take' on it. We used to eat Barm Brack on 31st which is a special fruit bread baked for the occasion (although I think it's eaten at other times of the year now).
Spindrift, you have 12 months before next Days of the Dead, so start planning! That is most interesting about the brack, and certainly sounds like something pre-Christian. You will see in the video that Mass is held right under some decidedly "pagan" imagery.
Fumobici, I certainly hope you make an opportunity to come visit here, particularly since you so definitely "get" the spirit behind the art.
I have to warn you all that I have a lot more pictures. I haven't even looked at the ones I took today.
The next two posts will contain videos, which should largely explain the photos that follow them.
There is a story behind this picture. My friend nudged me and said, "Watch the dog." That's an abandoned grave in the forefront of the photo, and the dog is lying next to one just like it. She sat quietly through the whole long Mass, gazing at that grave.
This is the same grave as the first picture in this series. Someone decided Mercedes' grave would benefit by the addition of a jack o'lantern.
DonC ~~ the first two pictures in #20 above are of food stands right in front of the Xoxo cemetery. There are tons of them, heavy on the fried foods. You get a quick glimpse of them at the beginning of the video in #19.
You can see a bit of the wienie wagon in the fifth photo in #18. That's in front of the Nazareno cemetery, which is much smaller. At that cemetery, people from the community served food and hot drinks to anyone who asked.
Thanks to everyone for all the kind comments. Also thanks for not mentioning the big fat grammatical error in one of the videos. I have to get going, as I'm invited to yet another celebratory meal of the season. However, I wanted to post my pictures from yesterday. I went back to Abastos as it's so lively right now and because I needed flowers to take to the friend with whom I dined yesterday.
Everything you see here, multiply it in your head by the thousands and you'll have an idea of what the market is like right now.
As I said, flowers .........................
the regular flower vendors are stocked to the seams.
There are flowers spilling out the edges of the market: