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Posts Tagged ‘Día de los Muertos’

Several pan de muerto festivals sprung up in the valley of Oaxaca during Día de los Muertos — including a Festival del Pan de Muerto in Villa Díaz Ordaz, a Feria del Pan de Muerto Adornado in Villa de Zaachila, and a Feria del Pan y Chocolate in the city of Oaxaca.  While the intention of these fairs is to attract tourists, both foreign and domestic, the primary market remains ofrendas (offerings) to the difuntos (departed) — who must be fed during their brief return to visit with their loved ones.

And, like apron styles, pan de muerto (bread of the dead) varies from village to village, be it sold at a feria, mercado, or neighborhood panadería.

Panadería Yalalag in Oaxaca city.

San Pablo Villa de Mitla.

San Pablo Villa de Mitla.

Mercado, 20 de noviembre, Oaxaca city.

Villa de Zaachila.

Villa de Zaachila.

Villa de Zaachila.

Villa de Zaachila

Villa de Zaachila.

Though my difuntos have departed and my altar has been disassembled, I couldn’t consign my beautiful (but stale) pan de muerto offerings to the garbage can.

Pan de muerto from Yalalag, Mitla, and Zaachila.

So, here they remain in a basket on my counter — until they disintegrate or the hormigas (ants) enjoy a feast.

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Under the dappled sunlight filtering through the 500 year old ahuehuete trees in the panteón of Tlacolula de Matamoros, lovingly placed fruit and nuts nourish the souls.  (Click on images to enlarge)

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the afternoon, when the light and shadows dance on the graves, beautiful still lifes greet the departed, their living family, friends, and visitors.  It is a tranquil setting to contemplate the words of Octavio Paz (The Labyrinth of Solitude, the other Mexico, and essays, Grove Press, 1985, p. 54)

The opposition between life and death was not so absolute to the ancient Mexicans as it is to us.  Life extended into death, and vice versa. Death was not the natural end of life but one phase of an infinite cycle.

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Today, at 3:00 PM in Teotitlán del Valle, as leaves in the mountains and fields rustled, the arrival of the difuntos (departed) was announced with the sound of cohetes (rockets) and church bells.  Incense burners were lit and placed in front of ofrendas in each home’s altar room — the smoke and scent of copal helping to guide the spirits home for their yearly twenty-four hour visit.

Tonight they will feast on tamales amarillos — special tamales that are traditionally served three times a year in Teotitlán — in July for the Fiesta de la Preciosa Sangre de Cristo, in October for the Fiesta de la Virgen del Rosario, and today, November first, in honor of the returning difuntos.

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As we have done for many years, blogger buddy Chris and I came to the home of Zacarías Ruiz and Emilia Gonzalez with our offering of pan de muertos and a bottle of mezcal to place on their altar — paying our respects to their difuntos.  In turn, we were offered mezcal and cervesas (beer), followed by the aforementioned tamales amarillos.

The tamales were days in the making.  Several of the family’s organic free range chickens were sacrificed; corn from their milpa was nixtamalized to make a silky smooth masa; and the ingredients for mole amarillo were toasted, chopped, blended, and boiled.  The final preparation began at 3:30 this morning — 250 tamales were assembled, filled, and wrapped in fresh green leaves from their milpa and placed in the steaming pots.  The results were to die for!

For me, more than painted faces and parades, this is what makes experiencing Día de los Muertos in Oaxaca so special.

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As my grandchildren finished their trick or treating up in el norte, I put the final touches on my Día de los Muertos ofrenda (offering) here in Oaxaca.

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A yellow (the color of death in pre-hispanic southern Mexico) cloth covers two chests; papel picado (cut tissue paper), signifying the union between life and death, has been added, along with the traditional flowers of Day of the Dead — cempasúchil and veruche (domesticated and wild marigolds), their scent to guide the spirits, and cockscomb to symbolize mourning.  Visitors brought the sunflower and, since my grandfather, father, and father-in-law were avid gardeners, it is for them!

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There is salt to make sure the souls stay pure and chocolate, peanuts, pecans, apples, mandarin oranges, and pan de muertos (Day of the Dead bread) to nourish them.

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The sweet smell of copal incense and its smoke help guide my loved ones to the feast I have prepared.  And, there is water to quench their thirst, as they travel between worlds, not to mention mezcal and cervesa (beer).

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But, most important of all, there are the tangible remembrances of my departed — photos and some of their favorite things.

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Revolutionary catrina and catrin for my revolutionary comadre and compadre, Sylvia and Nat.

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Yarn and a crochet hook for my dear grandmother who many of the abuelas (grandmothers) in Oaxaca remind me of — always wearing an apron, never wearing pants, and incredibly adept with crochet and embroidery thread.  And, for my adored grandfather, a San Francisco Giants baseball cap.  My grandparents moved next door at the same time the Giants moved from New York to San Francisco and grandpa and I listened to many games together on his transistor radio, as I helped him in the garden.

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There are other cherished friends and relatives on my altar, but pride of place goes to my parents.  For my father, who was killed when I was only two and a half, there is beer (below the above photo) — alas Victoria not Burgermeister!  And for my mother, a fan to cool herself as she dances and a bottle of port to sip before she sleeps.

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It’s been a two-day labor of love as I wanted everything to be perfect for my difutos (departed) to find their way and feel welcome in my Oaxaca home.

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Not all the Día de los Muertos murals in Villa de Zaachila were finished, some were still works in progress…

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with ladders and paints standing by…

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waiting for their artists to pick up the brush…

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or spray can, as the case may be.

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I first saw many of the murals in the summer of 2017 and was happy to see they are still intact, albeit some are a little faded.  Celebrated by the community, the new murals join the old and become a part of the landscape of the village.

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A regalito (little gift) to my calaca and calavera loving grandson from today’s visit to Villa de Zaachila for their first Feria del Pan de Muerto, Mole, Chocolate y Espuma.

From murals along the outer side of the panteón (cemetery) in Villa de Zaachila.  Click to enlarge images.

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Today the sun (finally) came out and hundreds (thousands?) of pots of cempasúchil (aka, cempoalxóchitl, cempaxochitl, cempoal, zempoal, flor de muertos) arrived in the city center.

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This was a photo op not only for yours truly but also the local press, as they trailed after the wife of Oaxaca’s governor while she viewed the unloading…

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and planting of the iconic Día de los Muertos flowers in the beds of the Zócalo and Alameda.

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The color and fragrance of the cempasúchil provide a lovely setting to sit and contemplate the world (and check your cell phone).

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Oaxaca is putting on her best to welcome her difuntos (deceased) along with the thousands of tourists who will soon be arriving.

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For anyone who still wonders why in the world I have chosen to live in and thrive in Oaxaca, go see the latest Pixar movie, Coco.

Entrance to the Panteón de Xochimilco, Oaxaca – Oct. 31, 2017

The filmmakers “based the Rivera family — a multigenerational matriarchy headed by Miguel’s formidable abuelita, or grandmother — on real-world families with whom they embedded while visiting the Mexican states of Oaxaca and Guanajuato between 2011 and 2013.”  (How Pixar Made Sure ‘Coco’ Was Culturally Conscious)

Panteón in San Antonino Castillo Velasco, Oaxaca – Nov. 4, 2017

From the elaborately embroidered blouses and animated fantastical alebrije to the cemeteries and “life” of Día de los Muertos, Oaxaca provided an inspiration for the film.  (Coco, la nueva película de Disney-Pixar inspirada en Oaxaca)

Panteón San Antonino Castillo Velasco, Oaxaca – Nov. 4, 2017

It is the music and messiness, color and cacophony, and finding joy in just being.

Panteón San Antonino Castillo Velasco, Oaxaca – Nov. 4, 2017

“We absorbed details in every place that we visited, but the most valuable thing was the time we spent with Mexican families.”  (How Coco’s Directors Celebrated the Film’s Mexican Heritage)

Ofrenda display in the Biblioteca Pública Central de Oaxaca Margarita Maza de Juárez – Oct. 31, 2017

It is the Oaxaca of fiestas, street dogs, and papel picado.

Papel picado projected on the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad, Oaxaca – Oct. 30, 2017

Above all, it is about the importance of family, living and dead…

Public ofrenda in the atrium of the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, Oaxaca – Oct. 31, 2017

“With all of its music and folklore and artwork, and the story itself, audiences so far feel Coco respects their families, living and remembered.”   (Mexico, Music And Family Take Center Stage In ‘Coco’)

Panteón Municipal de Tlacolula de Matamoros, Oaxaca – Nov. 1, 2017

And, respect for one’s heritage and traditions.

Panteón San Antonino Castillo Velasco, Oaxaca – Nov. 4, 2017

This is the Oaxaca I fell in love with and treasure.

Panteón San Antonino Castillo Velasco, Oaxaca – Nov. 4, 2017

This is the Oaxaca that captured by heart, daily enriches my life, and I call home.

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Looking back, in black and white…

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Magna Comparsa Oaxaca through the streets of the city on October 28, 2017.

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Tapetes de arena (rugs of sand) are a traditional feature of the celebration in Oaxaca of Día de Muertos.  When I first arrived to live here, they were drawn in front of the Cathedral.  Next, they moved for a year or two to the Government Palace and for the last several years they have graced the Plaza de la Danza.  This year’s offerings were the work of twelve artisans and feature the most beloved and revered of the Jesús and María señores y señoras in Oaxaca.  This post will highlight the ladies…

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Virgen Dolorosa — Our Lady of Sorrows

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Virgen del Carmen — Our Lady of Mount Carmel

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Sra. Virgen del Rosario — Our Lady of the Rosary

Interestingly, in previous years the themes of the sand paintings in these public spaces have been Día de Muertos related.  I’m not sure of why the change this year to religious imagery.  Indigenous Day of the Dead celebrations pre-date the arrival of the Spanish and the All Saints Day of the Catholic church.  And in Oaxaca, one of the most indigenous states in Mexico, as Shawn D. Haley points out in his book, Day of the Dead: When Two Worlds Meet in Oaxaca, “there is little of the Spanish influence to be found in the Oaxacan Day of the Dead.  The Spanish version… is bleak and dismal…. For the Oaxaqueñans, these days are… joyous and exuberant.  It is not a mourning of lost loved ones, but a celebration, a reunion with the dead.”

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Santa María de Guadalupe — Our Lady of Guadalupe

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Nuestra Señora de la Solidad — Our Lady of Solitude

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Inmaculada Concepción de Juquila — Virgin of Juquila

For more of these sand paintings, check out the recent post by blogger buddy Chris.  By the way, the feast days for these last three señoras are coming up in December.  First on the calendar is Juquila on December 8, then comes Guadalupe on December 12,  and, finally, Oaxaca’s patron saint, Soledad on December 18.  There will be special masses, processions, and rockets. December is a noisy month!

But first, we must welcome the difuntos (departed) who begin arriving tonight.

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Last night, throughout the streets of the city, the living began welcoming the dead.

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Like the Guelaguetza desfile of delegations, Oaxaqueños and tourists (foreign and domestic) crowded the sidewalks along the Magna Comparsa Oaxaca 2017 route — from the Cruz de Piedra, down García Vigil, left on Allende, right on Macedonio Alcalá, right on Independencia, and into the Alameda.

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With bands leading the way, catrinas in regional dress and dancers in traditional muerteada attire whirled and twirled, high-stepped and jumped, and moved and grooved their way through the streets.

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With earthquakes and hurricanes and now the resumption of the zócalo plantón (occupation) and bloqueos (blocades) of roads into and out of the city by Sección XXII of the teachers’ union and their allies, Oaxaca and Oaxaqueños needed to party-down in joyous abandon — and they did!

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Día de Muertos observances are different in the indigenous villages — the mood is more formal and each village has customs and rituals that tradition dictates must be followed.  But the bottom line in ciudad and pueblo is to provide a welcome worthy of both the living and the dead.  The celebrations have only just begun…

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Calacas dressed for work and catrinas dressed to the nines, for my skeleton-loving grandson.

From the sidewalks, courtyards, and balconies of Oaxaca, October 2017 — ready for the Day of the Dead.

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After the wretched week that was (RIP Leonard Cohen and Leon Russell, not to mention the USA elections), reviewing my Día de Muerto photos from Teotitlán del Valle was the ideal tonic.

On November 1, as I previously mentioned, after strolling and sitting and contemplating and conversing our way through the panteón in Tlacolula de Matamoros, we drove to the home of friends, Zacarias Ruiz and Emilia Gonzalez, in Teotitlán.  Arriving at 3:00 PM, we were just in time to join the family and other guests, as Zac gave words of welcome to the difuntos, who had also just made their appearance.

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Our pan de muerto and mezcal joined the other offerings on the altar to provide nourishment to the departed while we, the living, sat down at the long table for a little cervesa, mezcal, and more than a few of the 500+ tamales Emilia had made.  After lots of eating and conversation, we walked across the courtyard to give our regards to Antonio Ruiz (weaver of one of my treasured rugs), wife Claudia, and their children (the beautiful Beatriz and her lively brothers, Diego and Antonito), and to see Antonio’s new showroom (Chris has a photo in his Familia blog post) and their altar.

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Invited to return to the Ruiz home the following day for Emilia’s famous mole negro, we also stopped at the village panteón to listen for the wind that signals the departure of the difuntos at 3:00 PM on November 2.

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We also stopped to pay our respects at the grave of Arnulfo Mendoza, though it took a little searching to find it, as the large tree that stood next to it had fallen, leaving only a stump.

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Both days, the drive back to the city was filled with the warmth, peace, and joy that Teotitlán del Valle always seems to impart.

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Under the strong and comforting gaze of Picacho, who could ask for a better resting place.

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The dead don’t arrive in the valley of Oaxaca all at once.  The cosmic difunto air traffic controller has scheduled their arrival at different times on different days, from October 31 through November 3, to avoid celestial congestion.

Santa María Atzompa’s departed are among the first to return, arriving on the night of October 31.  Flower and food vendors line the walkway leading to the panteón as grandparents, parents, teens, and small children stream in with arms full of flowers, candles, buckets, and brooms.  Because is built on a slope and there are almost no paths, footing can be treacherous, especially in the dark when only candles on the graves light the way.  At one time, perhaps tombs were positioned on a grid, but no more and it seems to be filled to capacity.  I guess that’s why one side of the panteón has been opened up (one of the walls removed), the field beyond leveled, and a new wall around the field, connected to the old, constructed.  (You can click on images for a larger view.)

On November 1, in the early afternoon, it has become our custom to visit the cemetery in Tlacolula de Matamoros, before bringing pan de muerto and mezcal to the home of friends in Teotitlán del Valle.  In contrast to the higgledy-piggledy of Atzompa, the panteón in Tlacolula emanates a sense of order and serenity.  I wonder, could the tranquility comes from the 500 year old ahuehuete trees (hijos of el Tule, we were told) that reign over the tombs of the departed and make for an amazing play of light and shadow throughout?

On November 2, we returned to Teotitlán, but I will save that for another blog post.  However, that was not the end of the road.  In the category of, no rest for the living, the following day we drove south to San Antonino Castillo Velasco.  This is the village known for their beautiful flowers and exquisite floral embroidery.  And, it is said that because the living are so busy providing flowers to other parts of the valley, the departed wait until November 3 to return. (See the book, Day of the Dead: When Two Worlds Meet in Oaxaca by Shawn D. Haley and Curt Fukuda.)  I’m sure, like we, the difuntos are dazzled by the intricacy of floral designs that family members have created to decorate their tombs in welcome.

Octavio Paz writes in The Labyrinth of Solitude, “Life extended into death, and vice-versa.  Death was not the natural end of life but one phase of an infinite cycle.”

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Poco a poco (little by little) my ofrenda has been constructed and composed.  A yellow (the color of death in prehispanic southern Mexico) cloth covers two chests and papel picado, signifying the union between life and death, has been added.

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Photos of departed loved ones have been placed, along with apples, oranges, and nuts to nourish the difuntos, sal to make sure the souls stay pure, cempasúchitl and veruche (domesticated and wild marigolds) — their scent to guide the spirits, cockscomb to symbolize mourning, the previously mentioned flor de muerto from the mountains above Díaz Ordaz, and copal incense to draw the spirits home and ward off evil.

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Sugar skulls, catrinas, and a few of the favorite things of my parents, grandparents, and in-laws have also been added.  Lest the spirits become thirsty, there is water, mezcal, cervesa, and a bottle of port (for my mom) to drink.

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Last night, the candles and copal incense were lit to guide my loved ones to my Oaxaca home and, just to make sure, I sprinkled some cempasúchitl petals outside to help them find their way.

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It may not be the house where they lived, but I’m hoping they too believe, When you live in your heart, you are always home.

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