Monday, November 17, 2014

Day of the Dead: A Celebration of Life

Our tour group outside the cemetery of Tzintzuntzan

I have been living in Mexico for about 4 months now and I am still amazed by how much I have learned and have yet to learn. Mexico has continually challenged and surprised me. Día de los Muertos was no exception.

Ever since I first arrived here I have noticed that Mexicans have a unique relationship with death compared to people in the United States. I have many relatives here and have attended a few family funerals since my arrival. While there was still much sadness at these funerals, I noticed that there was also much less of something that I was used to feeling at funerals in the US: fear. While we try to find comfort in religion and others when someone dies, there is still this hesitance to speak of death and an attempt to try and ignore it in US cultures. Mexican culture does the exact opposite and as a result, Mexicans are much more connected with and open to communicating with the spiritual world. On multiple occasions, conversations have led to talk of spiritual legends and many, many personal encounters with the spirits of deceased relatives. The culmination of this embracing of the spiritual world is the Day of the Dead. I had the opportunity to travel to several cities in the state of Michoacán, well-known for their traditional celebrations of the Day of the Dead: Patxcuaro, Janitzio, Morelia, Santa Clare de Cobre, and the pre-hispanic ruins of Tzintzuntzan. I was completely awestruck by what I saw. It was not a day of solemn remembrance, but rather a full-blown celebration of life. I walked through cemeteries glittering in bright orange with thousands of marigolds covering the ground, the headstones, and the entrances. I saw families sitting around the gravesites of relatives, laughing, chatting, singing, dancing, as comfortable as if they were in their own backyards. I saw people selling papas and pan de muerto (a traditional pastry with orange and anise flavor) among the gravestones, as if it were a stadium at a sporting event. I saw the devotion and dedication that went into making the intricately decorated ofrendas (offerings) at each headstone, with flowers, candles, fruits, breads, pastries, and cherished worldly possessions of the deceased. I was stuck by the fact that if I had traveled to a graveyard on a holiday in the United States, it would be a much more somber, and even slightly unsettling, experience. I am incredibly impressed by Mexico´s approach to remembering the dead and I hope to channel that same sense of joy, peace, and celebration into my own relationship with death.

Copper museum in Santa Clara de Cobre

 The view of Lake Patzcuaro from the ruins of Tzintzuntzan

Me in the pre-hispanic ruins of Tzintzuntzan

Ponche: apples + guanabana + peaches + cane sugar = best hot drink ever

Graveyard decorated for Day of the Dead

 View on the boat ride to the island of Janitzio at sunset

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