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Wanderlust Travel Magazine (UK) - - CONTENTS -

Why the Day of the Dead is the life and soul of Mex­ico for trav­ellers

That’s the Mex­i­can Hal­loween, isn’t it?

Au con­traire, or de lo con­trario. Día de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, is held around the same time but, as vis­i­tors will quickly find out, it is less about scar­ing peo­ple and more about cel­e­bra­tion. The theme is death, but it’s a life-af­firm­ing ex­plo­sion of singing, parad­ing and rev­elry.

So, they’re cel­e­brat­ing?

Yes. Me­soamer­i­can cul­tures saw death as a cause for cher­ish­ing life, rather than mourn­ing, which was seen as dis­re­spect­ful. The Aztecs duly cre­ated a ri­otous fes­ti­val (orig­i­nally held in sum­mer) honour­ing Micte­caci­hu­atl, the mytho­log­i­cal Lady of the Dead, who was sac­ri­ficed as an in­fant. For the two days of the fes­ti­val, the un­der­world is said to have opened, al­low­ing de­ceased souls to re­turn to Earth for a knees-up. Af­ter the Span­ish coloni­sa­tion of Mex­ico in the 16th cen­tury, the fes­ti­val fused with Chris­tian cel­e­bra­tions around All Saints’ Day (1 Novem­ber; the day af­ter Hal­loween); the date changed and the fes­ti­val be­came a mash-up of Aztec rites and Catholic feasts.

What hap­pens?

The pre­lude to the Día de los Muertos is known as the Day of the Lit­tle An­gels (1 Novem­ber), which nods to the story of Micte­caci­hu­atl and cel­e­brates those who died young, with toys, milk and sweets of­fered at the graves of chil­dren. The fol­low­ing day (2 Novem­ber) brings the adult ver­sion, as bot­tles of tequila and mez­cal (a liquor made from agave) are of­fered at graves along with per­sonal trin­kets and sweets, in­clud­ing su­gar skulls.

But I thought it was all one big party?

The core of the Day of the Dead is deeply per­sonal, re­volv­ing around homemade feasts and lav­ishly dec­o­rated tem­po­rary al­tars ( ofren­das). But the cel­e­bra­tions in­vari­ably spill onto the streets, where rev­ellers dress up as skele­tons and party hard.

Where’s best to see this?

Just as in­di­vid­ual cel­e­bra­tions are per­son­alised, they also vary from place to place. In the Mi­choacán state town of Pátzcuaro, peo­ple from the sur­round­ing coun­try­side con­verge on the shores of its epony­mous lake, pile into ca­noes and head to Jan­itzio is­land for an all-night vigil. Else­where, cel­e­bra­tions are in­tense across the south­ern state of Oax­aca, es­pe­cially in the small city of Tux­te­pec, where lo­cals cre­ate elab­o­rate pat­terns in the streets from saw­dust, petals, pine nee­dles and other nat­u­ral stuff. Just about any­where in Mex­ico, though, you’ll find a party.

Drop-dead gor­geous Many par­ty­go­ers dress up in skele­ton make-up for the Day of the Dead

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