It’s well known that in Mexico death is lived differently to the rest of the world. Non the less it’s not a taboo subject, the Day of the Dead is a tribute, a party, a reunion with their dear dead. During November first and second, Mexicans are reunited with their family and friends to offer their company, food and favourite drinks. These two days are divided considering the type of dead. November first is dedicated to children who passed away too early and November second is to adults. Everything these days is done to honour and to remember them, it is an invitation to get all back together, even if it’s only for one night.
This is a holiday that is celebrated throughout Mexico and it is world famous, but there are certain places that stand out for their tradition and folklore. Southeast Mexico City, in the country’s capital, there is a place that, because of the celebration’s characteristics, it has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. This place is San Andrés de Mixquic, one of the seven villages of the Tláhuac delegation. This area was once an island surrounded by Lake Chalco, now dry, which of only some canals are preserved.
How to go to Mixquic.
To get there from Mexico City, you’ll have to go first to the Taxqueña Station either by subway or bus, it depends where you are. Once there, there are a few buses called “micros” emerging from platforms A and B. The number “RTP 149 “ goes straight to Mixquic, it takes about 2 hours and costs around 2 pesos. It’s not close but it´s worth it. To return at night, there are other buses that take you back to the Taxqueña Station.
What to do in Mixquic.
Once there we will see hundreds of food stalls and drinks in a market that leads us to the church of San Andrés Apóstol. It’s precisely in this church’s cemetery where the party happens at night.
You can breathe the Day of the Dead’s atmosphere in every street of Mixquic Village. As we walk, we can visit the homes of neighbours showing their altars and offerings dedicated to the memory of their dead. In institutions, municipalities and cultural centers, these offerings are usually dedicated to famous characters of Mexico, often coinciding who died that year.
What should never be missed in a tradicional offering.
The classic offering is divided between several levels that represents the path that dead have to take to get to the altar. These paths are usually Heaven, Earth and Hell, but sometimes there are more than three levels. These offerings usually have photos of the honouree, candles as symbol of fire and water glasses as symbol of water. Earth is shown in form of fruit or seeds such as cocoa or corn. It is also placed some of the deceased’s favourite dishes, along with alcoholic beverages and some objects that belonged to him in life. The predominant colours are usually purple “papel picado” and yellow or orange cempasúchil (marigold) flowers. Sometimes there are placed crosses, skulls or arches, which represent the door by reaching the deceased.
In the village we can also enjoy decorated sugar skulls, “papel picado” garlands, food, drinks, flowers and colours. There are dance and theatre, outdoor concerts, cinema, canoe rides through the canals between the “chinampas” (This is a type of Mesoamerican agriculture which used small areas to grow food. These areas float on lakes in the Valley of Mexico). There are also parades, carton-made skulls contests and recitals of poems about death or in honour of a deceased, called “calaveritas” (little skulls). You can’t miss the chance to see a representation of Pre-Hispanic ballgame with Pre-Hispanic music. The players are dressed as gods and their teams are divided between gods of life and gods of death. Among them, there is Tlaloc (God of Rain), Quetzalcoatl (the Feathered Serpent), and the God of War, Fire and Death.
Bread of the dead. Yumi!
You can taste the traditional “pan de muerto” (bread of the dead), plus many other delicacies to Mexican food, buy sugar skulls to eat or as decoration and meet some “Catrina”(which is a feminine representation of Death).
Before it gets dark, you can see how families prepare the graves of their dead. They clean them, change flowers to make new altars with forms of cross, hearts, etc. These are usually made of different flowers, but the one which should never be missed is the flower of the dead or cempasúchil (from Nahuatl origin “flower of twenty petals”). It´s orange-yellow colour is a guide to the deceased, along with the candles to keep them from getting lost. It shows them the way and welcomes them home. Another element which can’t be missed in an altar is an incense called “copal” as well as food and drinks. This party is like a dinner with their dead, it’s a new opportunity that the world of the dead offers them.
The night: the world of the dead.
When the night comes, all candles and incense are lit. Then, the world of the dead and the living are merged into one, unable to distinguish one from another. Candles with copal´s scent fill with smoke all around, creating a weightless atmosphere. It seems that everything is floating. Besides the cemetery there is a crowded place with tombs where there is no one else. It’s hard to explain what it feels like. Usually there is also mariachi music, entire families surrounding or sitting on the tombs talking and eating. It’s quite a show. Everything is surrounded by an air of festivity, it may even feel a bit mockingly. It is not at all a sad funeral feast. It has a lot of art and magic, not only because of the mystic part, but also because it is very nice that traditions like these are preserved until today and we can experience them.
In Mixquic, every year, the dead and the living coexist happily in this great celebration of the Day of the Dead, surrounded by colour, magic and tasty food you will not want to miss.
¡Welcome to the world of the dead!