The holiday, dominated by skeletons, skulls, and candy, it isn’t anything close to the our tradition of Halloween. It is more like Thanksgiving: a time of food and fun with the family, remembering and celebrating the lives of their loved ones.
Altho the actual holiday is November 2nd and 3rd, the celebrations begin mid-October. Florists set out acres of Marigolds (Campasuchiles) and Panaderias begin baking a special sweet bread called Pan de Muertos.
Families use all of these elements to create these beautiful personal shrines, called Ofrendas, that commemorates their loved ones. It’s a lovely time to think about the deceased, creating a display with photos, flowers, candles, books, musical instruments, and plates of the foods and drinks that they loved.
In Taxco, these ofrendas are set up around the Zocalo and all along the narrow streets. The town literally glows at night from the candlelight and the streets are lined with thousands of marigolds – the lights and colors thought to lead the spirits back to their relatives.
The real party begins on November 2nd when the families pack up their baskets and head to the cemetery. Thousands of families bring their feasts and eat while they clean tombstones, sing songs, and talk about their ancestors.
Tradition holds that the loved ones are allowed to come back on this day and visit the families that have gathered in their honor. It truly is a celebration – maybe there is sadness, but there is also joy in talking about all that has happened in the past year, remembering happy days and celebrating the newest additions to their family.
The highly decorated skeletons are a whimsical reminder that death is just a part of life, and that everyone will one day be a skeleton. These skeletons (also known as La Catrinas) are often posed doing the daily things in life – playing a guitar, taking a bath, making tortillas. They paint the picture of the afterlife, where life continues, in all its busyness and beauty, after death.
I lost 3 friends in Taxco last year and we are creating Ofrendas for each of them in the office this week. The process causes me to think about each friend as I distill their lives into a few well-considered elements. Dieter loved country music and his dog named June. Martin, the first friend I made in Taxco, and the smiling face always waiting for me at the airport. Nelly, a true artist who considered the elements of life, history and the world around her as she sketched out her jewelry.
For those of you who have lost a loved one, you know these feeble displays can never capture the spirit of the person or bring back the sound of their voice. Looking at these dear faces brings sadness, but I love the season that causes me to remember them, and pay them the greatest respect of keeping their memories alive. Isn’t one of our deepest desires to be remembered after we are gone?