ASK ANDREA – Guest Blogger Jan Mabey Talks about the Day of the Dead
Hello Beautiful Ladies – Jan Mabey, Guest Blogger, sharing with you from Mexico today. I finally closed up shop in Utah for the Winter and traveled to Manzanillo Mexico where I’ve settled into my space for the next few months. Upon landing I had but a few days to unpack and organize before I set off for a few days adventure to experience Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead.
Countless communities in Mexico celebrate Day of the Dead in their own traditional way. The big difference is the styles and customs that differ by region depending on the region’s predominant pre-Hispanic culture. This experience was on my bucket list and I wanted to do it full on. I traveled for about 9 hours by bus to the town of Morelia, the capital of the state of Michoacan (also famous for the migration of the butterflies) where I stayed in a lovely old colonial hotel, centrally located across from the main square. Fortunate to be on the upper floor, I was able to step out on my patio and watch the activity in the square unfold as well as enjoy the view of the rolling hills that flowed into the distance. I spent the afternoon and evening wandering the area and visiting the university and Museum.
Morelia is a beautiful sprawling city of over a million people, four million total in the entire state.The following day was going to be a long one beginning in the morning and into the midnight hours and the day I was most excite to experience.
Patzcuaro is one of the most beautiful old colonial cities I have seen. I plan to return to experience more fully one day soon. Patzcuaro is known for being one of the most moving Day of the Dead celebrations take place. The locals come from all over the countryside to participate in the celebration. Beautiful flowers for sale lining the streets for just a few days was a sight I had never come close to beholding.
Day of the Dead is not the Mexican version of Halloween as some may think. While related the two events are very different in tradition, focus, and tone. Halloween takes on the tone of terror and mischief while the Day of the Dead festivities takes two days to unfold, ending in beautiful colors, pristine alters, with the expression of joy in life and in death, showing deep love, gratitude, and respect for the family members that have passed. The rituals are full of symbolic meaning, The closer I watched the more I began to understand the focused intention in every action taken, every item chosen at the market, every deliberate placement of items on the alter. Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead is a celebration of life and death originating several thousand years ago with the Aztec, Toltec, and other Nahua people, who considered mourning the dead disrespectful. For these pre-Hispanic cultures, death was a natural phase in life’s long continuum.
The dead, still members of the community, are kept alive in memory and spirit—and during Día de los Muertos they temporarily returned to Earth. Flowers and candles set the mood during Day of the Dead. The main focus throughout the homes, cities and cemeteries are altars or ofrenda. These aren’t altars for worshipping; rather, they’re meant to welcome spirits back to the realm of the living. Each one designed and decorated with the unique stye and items loved by the one being guided home. Water, coke cola, or tequila are used to quench thirst after the long journey, favorite foods from cookies and chips, fresh fruits, to traditional dishes (imagine preparing an alter for ancestors that parted hundreds of years ago up to including those that have recently passed and ranging in age), family photos, maybe a toy, and a candle for each dead relative to shine a light on the path. The smoke from copal incense is prevalent and burned throughout the two days. As the two days unfolded I came to understand it was used to purify the area (both at the market selling the flowers, sugar skulls and other items, as well as cleaning the grave cites and building the alters). The smoke was the carrier for the prays and the gentle aroma to appeal to the spirits sense of smell. Who could resist following such a scent?
After a crazy day of watching this all come together… my favorite time was around midnight in the cemetery alone but with many. This is where I witnessed family members sitting around the beautiful alters they had constructed throughout the day. Some in deep focus and prayer, others diligently attending to the alter and lighting more copal, eating, visiting, some weeping through the grief of recent separation and others visiting with smiling faces and joyful expression as children respectfully wandered and played.
I have had the opportunity or may I call it a gift… to witness different cultures celebrate the journey through our human experience. Rituals from conception, through birth, and what we are a custom to calling death. Witnessing the beautiful and powerful energy unfold I was reminded that we are one and that living fully requires a love that is bigger than I can fully understand to date because my thoughts of how immense begins to take my breath away. I think, what we call love permeates beyond individuals, where and how we are born and raised, the color of our skin and the language we use to communicate and exist here in this time and space. There is a collective where we are not separate, each of us an individual strand in what weaves the universe. An energy that is extremely powerful as well as complicated.
Have a Blessed Day