Every year throngs of people converge on the tiny little Mexican province of Patzcuaro to celebrate the lives of the dead. It’s a colourful ritual of offerings by family members welcoming the souls of their loved ones back into their hearts and homes. This is Dia de los Muertos.
A hot tip if you’re visiting the area is to have handy small change or lollies for the trick or treaters. There will be plenty of requests for your offering and turning away a miniature Frankenstein or Dracula’s Bride can be heart wrenching! Also note, the children don’t just put their hand out on Halloween (31st October), but every day of the weeklong festival.
While in Patzcuaro, we also visited a few of the city’s historic buildings such as;
· The House of 11 Patios – an ex-convent built between the 18th and 19th centuries
· The Basilica – built in the 16th century and beneath which lies the pre-Hispanic remains of a sacred Purepecha (local Indigenous people) ceremonial site and
· The Public Library containing a mural by the artist Juan O’Gorman which depicts the story of the Purepecha’s history up until the Mexican Revolution.
A beautiful town with friendly characters and a rich history invites any traveller to come and experience it all for them self. Oh and if that all makes you thirsty, visit Miguel at El Cajaro for a mescal and some local tunes.
Walking through the cemetery in Tzintzuntzan 17km north of Patzcuaro, thousands of marigolds adorn the majority of graves, a symbol to Mictlantecuhtli, the Aztec god of the dead. Other flowers such as chrysanthemums, gladiolas, baby’s breath and cockscomb are also used to enhance the headstones along with offerings such as pan de muertos (bread of the dead), candles, incense, fruit and anything else the dead enjoyed while living.
It was here we met Rafael decorating the graves of his parents and brother. He kindly allowed us to place some of the flowers he had prepared on the graves and spoke to us of the proceedings for the day. He told us it was a celebration of life and a way to remember those who had passed. It is his favourite day and he looked forward to it each year.
Graveside vigils are also common with family members spending the night in homage and observance of those passed. We witnessed this vigil on the Isla de Janitzio, a $50 peso return ferry from Patzcuaro. Over commercialised, the Island is more designed to accommodate tourists than grieving relatives and the atmosphere wrought with drunk teenagers and travellers, filling their bellies with cheap tequila and fresco. Depending on the experience you’re after, we’d recommend Tzintzuntzan for the traditional look at proceedings or Janitzio if you’re more interested in a party.
What traditions or customs do you and your family have for remembering the dead? Post your comments below.
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