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Posts Tagged ‘Día de Muertos’

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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Día de Muertos is coming…

That means the departed will soon return to eat, drink, and be merry with their living loved ones.

Due to earthquake damage the Panteón General in the city is closed, but the traditional evening of the dead will take place at the Panteón Xochimilco.

As the schedule of over 100 cultural activities (between October 28 and November 4) states, despite earthquakes and hurricanes, “Oaxaca is more alive than ever!”

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One of the great things about having friends come to visit, is going places and doing things not on the usual agenda.  Thus, last week, while accompanying my friend B on a private tour of sights outside Oaxaca city, the guide asked if we knew about the Muertos murals in Villa de Zaachila and would we like to see them.  Absolutely, we said!

In late October, prior to Día de Muertos, young artists are invited to paint Day of the Dead related murals on the walls of Calle Coquiza, the street that connects the church, Santa María Natividad, to the municipal cemetery.  Customs, beliefs, and legends provide the inspiration, as well as day-to-day activities.

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Flor de Piña dancers welcome residents and visitors to step through the doorway to the land beyond.

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Where electric meters serve as faces.

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And, telephone poles add a third dimension to the design.

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Painted pitchers and candles nestle in vegetation escaping from under a portón.

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And, a dancer frolics in sand waiting to be mixed into concrete for construction next door.

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Skeletons use an electric meter to get a leg up in climbing the conduit.

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Trees provide shade, as Pan de Muertos is baked in an outdoor oven.

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Leaves flutter above, as Bu’pu del Valle (chocolate atole) is frothed with a molinillo before being served in traditional hand-painted jicaras.

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Flowers tumble over the wall to adorn a catrina portrait’s hat.

The murals along the walls of Calle Coquiza remain throughout the year — until replaced by the next Día de Muertos artists’ offerings.  In addition, during Day of the Dead, this Calzada de los Muertos (Road of the Dead) is paved with sand paintings.  It is definitely going on my Muertos “must see” itinerary.

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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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October 30, 2016, around and about the valley of Oaxaca, preparations were underway for Día de Muertos.  Bread, fruit, chocolate, nuts, and flowers for sale spilled from mercados into the streets; the difuntos must be fed… and only the best!

Our first stop was Villa Díaz Ordaz for their first Expo Festival del Pan de Muerto.  It was day two of the 3-day festival and, of course, we were there early (around noon), but everyone was so warm and welcoming.  Hopefully, it will continue to grow in future years, as this is a sweet village in a picturesque setting at the base of the mountains.

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In Díaz Ordaz, they call these tiny, spicy-scented, lavender flowers “flor de muerto” and we were informed that they are even more important than cempasuchil (marigolds).

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After buying some surprisingly flavorful (whole grain!) pan de muerto for my ofrenda, we headed off to San Pablo Villa de Mitla.  Mitla has the most beautiful pan de muerto and two years ago we stumbled on their Pan de Muertos festival and competition.  A dazzling display of intricately decorated breads lined the sidewalks under the portales.  Alas, the festival was not continued, as their bread is in such demand, the bakers were too busy to take time out for an expo and competition.  So, like last year, we just enjoyed the sights and aromas of their bustling mercado.

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Have you ever seen so many varieties of bananas???  And, now for the famous  pan de muertos…

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Returning home, I added the bread and flor de muerto to my ofrenda.  Following a siesta, I ventured out into the streets of the city in search of a comparsa.  I never found it, but, as you could see from my previous post, the city was teeming with people and activity.  However, amid the merriment and mayhem, there were scenes of tranquility.

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A catrin ejecutivo?

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The copal incense beckoned the difuntos…  They began arriving this morning, seconds after midnight.

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Beautiful Oaxaca tonight on Macedonio Alcalá…

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In the words of the song, “Oaxaca vives en mí” (Oaxaca, you live in me).

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Marigolds have begun appearing in the city.  The yellow of this flor de muertos (flower of the dead) will help guide the difuntos (deceased) home to feast with their families during the upcoming Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations. Known as cempazuchil (also spelled cempasúchitl), flower pots and/or vases of marigolds may find their way onto ofrendas (the offerings on home altars for the difuntos).  Some scatter the petals on their muertos altar, others in a trail leading from the street into the house and up to the ofrenda.

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Next week, seasonal Day of the Dead markets will spring up and shopping will go into high gear.  Needless to say, I will join in buying the traditional fruits, nuts, flowers, and sugar skulls to place on my ofrenda.  And, along with friends, I will pay my respects to the difuntos of friends in Teotitlán del Valle.  It’s a special time of year in Oaxaca.

Once a librarian, always a librarian, thus a few resources about Day of the Dead:

A brief note:  Celebrations vary throughout Mexico and, even in the valley of Oaxaca, traditions differ from village to village, but the above articles will give you a general idea.  You can also click HERE for my Día de Muertos blog posts from previous years.

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Young and old, male and female…

it’s a family affair, labor of love…

as the tombs of San Antonino Castillo Velasco are painstakingly decorated on November 3.

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This Catrina arrived styling and ready to party.

Stylish Catrina posing in front of stone wall

Manicured fingers and toes, flower in her hair, and umbrella drink in hand, all she needs is a guy (or gal).

Seated Catrina in Tehuana traje holding cocktail glass with umbrellas.

Young man beware — she has her eye on you!

Ghoulish Catrina standing next to head shot of handsome young man

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And, guess who’s coming to dinner?  Catrinas, pinkies up!

Catrina in lavender dress sitting at table

Dahling, don’t start the party without me!

Close-up of face of a Catrina with lavender hat

Lo siento mis amigas, sending regrets from Juchitán.

Close-up of Tehuana Catrina with hand raised

Decisions, decisions, decisions… Shall I take the Jetta, Crossfox, Suburban, or Express Van???

Close-up of face of Catrina standing next to a sign with a list of autos

As for these two…

Male calavera and female calavera facing each other in a doorway

I’m not sure they are coming.

Male calavera and female calavera facing away from each other in a doorway

Hmmm… a lover’s quarrel?  Sheesh, even in the afterlife??!!!

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November has come and now is almost gone. Time accelerated.  Where did it go?  Retired life… I thought it would slow down… apparently not when one lives in Oaxaca. There’s too much to see and experience!

Los Días de Muertos

The month began with Los Días de Muertos. I signed-up to accompany my extraordinarily energetic Spanish teacher, Laura Olachea, on two “field trips.” About 30 of us (her students and their guests) boarded a bus the night of Oct. 31, bound for the old and new cemeteries of Xoxocotlán. Tens of thousands of tourists (overwhelmingly Mexican) seemed to have descended on this small village, the bus was forced to park 8-10 blocks away on a dirt side street, the sky was pitch black, and there were no street lights. Somehow, we all managed to keep up with our tiny maestra as she lead us through the crush of people and vendors (food, drink, sugar skulls, candles, you name it!) to the old cemetery.

Panteón de Xoxocotlán 2010

I plunged in. Heeding Laura’s advice to travel in groups of 3-4, I tagged along with a couple, chosen because he was at least 6 feet tall and I figured he would be easy to keep in eye range. The scene was like nothing I’ve ever seen before… a cornucopia of candles, by the thousands, flickering in the darkness; of color from the marigolds, cockscomb, and lilies; and of hundreds of families gathered around lopsided graves, drinking, sitting, laughing, and sharing in a ritual that recognizes that death is part of life. The scene was repeated at the new cemetery, before we stumbled our way back to the bus, which spirited us to the tiny pottery village of Atzompa and its panteón, well after midnight: Stage and dance floor, band playing, couples dancing, flowers, candles glowing in the darkness, families, few tourists, deeply personal, and magical… I felt like an intruder.

Panteón de Atzompa 2010

Though it was close to 1:30 AM when the bus dropped me off a block and a half from Casita Colibrí, I was up and back on the bus at 10 AM, for the ride to Mitla with Laura and our gang. We had the privilege of being guests of the García family, invited to participate in their Zapotec Day of the Dead traditions. We were welcomed to their home, a traditional family compound, with rooms surrounding an enormous dirt courtyard, with clotheslines holding newly dyed skeins of yarn (this is a family of weavers). Cervesas were offered, and then, in accordance with age-old custom, we followed the recently widowed family matriarch through the dusty streets to the Panteón Municipal. Here, holding the three-legged incense burner, the sweet and seductive smell of the burning copal perfuming the air, Doña Garcia performed a ceremony with words spoken in Zapotec.

Doña Garcia with copal burner

Mezcal and cigarettes were passed around. Joining the others, I drank the Mezcal and deposited my cigarette on the grave of the departed, where it joined several others — smoked and, like mine, un-smoked. With fireworks erupting periodically, we retraced our steps, following Doña Garcia and the smoke of the copal, as she brought the spirit of her late husband, Rutilio Garcia, back home to share the day with his family.

We returned to the lovingly assembled altar set-up by Doña Garcia. It was here, in front of this colorful altar, laden with flowers and food, including the intricately decorated pan de muertos that echoes the designs of the archeological ruins in Mitla, words were spoken in Zapotec and Spanish and tears traveled down many cheeks. Following this extremely moving ceremony, chairs were set up around several long tables where we joined the family in drinking Oaxacan hot chocolate, feasting on pan de muertos and mole negro, served, of course, with tortillas.

Satiated, it was probably a good thing that we were then led on a walking tour through this City of the Dead, to visit several other altars. Gracious families ushered our group through courtyards. At one, we paused to marvel at a woman, standing over an open fire (on this 80+ degree day), stirring a massive cauldron of mole,

Woman stirring cauldron of mole.

We gathered in modest homes where families “introduced” their departed and proudly explained the significance of items on their altars. Hot, exhausted and deeply moved, a much quieter crowd returned to the García home. We were offered a final shot of mezcal, said our heartfelt thank-yous, and boarded the bus for the trip back to the city.

I returned home in time to watch my San Francisco Giants win their first World Series crown since 1954, when they were the New York Giants. After my initial hurrahs, my head couldn’t help but turn from the TV to my small Day of the Dead altar; where, along with photos of my parents, mother and father-in-law, and departed friends, my eyes settled in the center of the altar, to a photo of my grandparents.

They had moved next door to my childhood home in Mill Valley about the same time the Giants moved to San Francisco, and it was then that Grandpa introduced me to baseball. We listened to Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons call the games and I put up a team photo (Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal, Willie McCovey, Felipe Alou, Stu Miller, Mike McCormick, Jose Pagan, Jimmy Davenport, Hobie Landrith…) on the wall of my bedroom; grandfather and granddaughter cheering, agonizing, and bonding. I took my Giants cap off, walked over, and put it on the altar.

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