It’s late morning Sunday, and it’s the tail end of the Dia de La Muerta weekend here in San Miguel. I’m sitting on the rooftop terrace of the home we are renting. It’s peaceful now and all I hear are random church bells and the trickle of water running in the arroyo….the calm after a raucous couple of days. Friday saw young children in face paint clamoring for candy. Both Saturday night and last night we saw hundreds of “Catrinas” in traditional garb….doing the crawl around the bars and restaurants of the Centro….drifting in and out of the official march from the Paroquia for a drink here and a quick bite there. It’s a buzz as festive as any Halloween party in the States, but without the Naughty Nurse silliness and Freddie Kruger garishness.
Most Sundays here start slowly, but the neighborhood comes alive by mid-morning. We hear the cheers of a few dozen spectator in the bleachers of the soccer field across the arroyo as they watch the local matches. By noon there is always a large extended family renting the nearby “Salon de Fiesta” (Mexican version of a party hall) for the day. Complete with both happy dance music and giggling children flowing out and into the cobbled streets, families celebrate all day. The local tiendas open a little later and neighborhood customers drift in and out in small but steady numbers. But not today.
The post-Halloween wind-down in the States entails gorged stomachs and livers working overtime from the parties. Fuzzy-headed revelers return rental costumes or put outlandish outfits in storage. But here in Mexico the most elaborate decorations are dedicated to the dead and not the living.
Families in Mexico focus their most important Day of the Dead energies on somber and serious rituals designed to not only honor the relatives that have passed, but to guide them back so they can make contact and be with those still here. Graves are cleaned and decorated. Elaborate altars are constructed to honor the departed, complete with photos and offerings to them, from a favorite snack to a pack of cigarettes to a bottle of their favorite soda or tequilla with a shot glass. It’s a beautiful and deeply felt way to pay tribute — to show lost loved ones they are not forgotten. The families gather, and share and recount their stories to keep them alive and reconnect spiritually…whether it’s metaphorically, or maybe even more.
So today there was no soccer game and no fiesta in the Salon. We passed houses on the way home tonight with front doors crowded and flanked with family members quietly holding vigil around their altars. William Faulkner said “the past is never dead…..it’s not even past.” Today the past and present were one and on heartful display in Mexico.