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Día de Muertos

Day of the Dead

By Juan Ordoñez

Día de Muertos: a globally-recognized holiday, whose indigenous celebrations were declared as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2008. Day of the Dead is a Mexican syncretism, amalgamating Europe and Mesoamerica in a spontaneous process as result of cultural exchange: It’s a coalition of ideas, a blend of traditions that come together in a dialogue, and even cohabit—sometimes uncomfortably so.

These death-related festivities of Mictlantecuhtli coincide with All Saints’ Day (i.e., All Hallows, Feast of All Saints) and All Souls’ Day (i.e., The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed). So, naturally, these days were incorporated into the Church holidays, in the same way the early Christians incorporated Roman and other pagan holidays into their own religious celebrations.

The combination of Christian purple and indigenous orange; the pre-Hispanic offerings sweetened by pan de muerto and the little sugar skull, la calaverita; both serve as informal invitations to the deceased: “Swing by the cemetery for a drink tonight!” It is infinitely poetic; for many, it is an inexplicable type of surrealism in the face of death and its horrors.

An evening of faces illuminated by candlelight, filled with hopes that our dearly departed will still recognize us despite the years that have passed, the years we have spent in their absence. This beautiful celebration, this blending of cultures, has evolved into the truly Mexican. Here in San Miguel de Allende we also suffer from a type syncretism, a paradox, of another kind: let’s call it postmodernity. A postmodern subject is characterized by its simultaneous atomization and lack of bonds, of substance. So, it seeks, fervently, a story—a story that can evolve into a discourse and serves to legitimize its very existence.

For example, let’s take the calaca in its various forms: a skeleton with that Ed Hardy, 90s aesthetic, or the sanitized and disinfected calacas used as symbols of hardcore or punk (yet which at the same time are a recent mark of haute culture). Or, the famous calaca that the caricaturist Posadas used in the pre-Revolutionary era in his humorous political cartoons. Yet, with lack of prior historical knowledge, it is often confused as a defining symbol of Day of the Dead. In turn, the calaca is superimposed onto its opposite: the American Halloween, whose modus operandi is to exorcise and scare away Death by affronting it in costume.

There is a time and a place to organize and create festivals, even the culturally-minded ones. However, there is a widespread discontent in this town regarding these emerging types of festivals, those whose historic roots are seized and subsequently molded into an egotistical wonderland that only appeals to a microcosm—one which excludes the masses and fails to celebrate the original intent of the event. A false claim to culture, with such a sheer ignorance to boot? There exists an enormous paradox and imposition in the very claim as the savior of Mexican culture. Unfortunately, this matter concerns all of us.


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