Thursday, October 19, 2017

A Dia de los Muertos Odyssey

Cemetery decorated for Dia de los Muertos, Romerillo, Chiapas
Dia de los Muertos, the time of year in Mexico when the worlds of the living and dead intersect, is coming up.  According to the lore of the holiday, on November 1 and 2, the souls of the dead visit and partake of the lives they once lived on earth. Preparations to welcome the dead begin well before these days and in many places Halloween (Oct. 31) is included in the celebration. 

Each region of Mexico contributes its own specific beliefs and customs to this pan-Mexican holiday. Our odyssey, here, begins in Chiapas, Mexico with its unique contribution of pre-Columbian Maya beliefs and customs.  The green crosses in the photo above are typical of Maya areas and have a local meaning and symbolism beyond that of the Christian cross.  In Romerillo Chiapas, people place boards over graves so that the dead during the year, so they cannot leave them and wander around before Dia de los Muertos.

Grave in Cemetery of Romerillo, Chiapas
Read all about Dia de los Muertos as it is celebrated in Chiapas:

Dia de los Muertos, Cemetery San Juan Chamula, Chiapas
You can see it, as well, in the Videos linked below. The first one I shot at the November 2 celebration in the cemetery of San Juan Chamula, Chiapas. It is one of a kind and you will be treated to an event not usually seen by outsiders, since photography is forbidden ( I had special permission)
A second video is of the celebration in the beautiful cemetery of Romerillo shown in  two of the photos above.  
The third video is of the Panthéon (cemetery) of Cristöbal de las Casas.  Cemeteries are hubs of activities during Dia de los Muertos and this video captures the beauty and poignancy of the celebration.

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In the states of Quintana Roo and Yucátan there are unique twists to Dia de Los Muertos where the holiday is known by its Maya name of Hanal Pixán.

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In parts of the US once owned by Mexico, elements of Mexcian culture are still vibrant.
Here are two videos shot in the Spanish missions of San Antonio, Texas, which was once a part of colonial Mexico. They show the unique blending of indigenous American and Mexican-Christian elements in this Dia de los Muertos celebration.

Dia de los Muertos revelers, Oaxaca

Oaxaca is justifiably famous for its celebration of Dia de los Muertos.  People painted as skeletons, portraying La Catrina the icon of Dia de los Muertos, are everywhere.  Is this all fun and games?  No, there is a much deeper level to all the rollicking activity, as you will learn here:

Open Grave in Cemetery of Pomuch, Campeche
Pomuch, a small town in Campeche, hosts what I call the "Ultimate" Dia de los Muertos". 
It's a little shocking, at first, but fascinating.


Mexico is wonderful any time of the year. During  Dia de los Muertos it is most itself with its essential nature, the unique blending of indigenous and Christian elements, shining through.