Day of the Dead

Day of the Dead UU Altar

By Muriel Bevilacqua Logan

As a member of the foreign community here in San Miguel, for 15 years as of the beginning of November, I’m thinking again of the celebration of the Day of the Dead. I’ve written about this in past years and it has helped, but there are always lots of new people in town, so I re-iterate my comments on how we foreigners participate in this meaningful and most Mexican of holidays. It seems to me there are three levels of celebration.

The most public celebration takes place in the Jardín. Altars are erected to humble and prominent sanmiguelenses, some who made a major contribution to the town and have passed away in this last year. The Jardín is festooned with decorations above and below, including lovely carpets of flowers and colored sawdust or other materials. Everyone strolls there in the evenings to pay respects to those who have passed and to share in this time of honoring them. It seems perfectly natural and appropriate for us to be a part of this event, and some foreigners are inevitably honored alongside the Mexicans. And now we have the La Calaca Festival as well which attracts tourists and invites all to participate.

The totally private part of the fiesta consists of altars being erected in the homes to honor loved ones that the family has lost, not necessarily recently, but whose absence they still feel strongly—their muertitos (little dead ones). A number of people give lectures and even lessons in making altars of this kind, using small mementos, flowers, photos and food and drink beloved of the one that has passed, so we foreigners might understand and participate in this private and personal way of honoring our own loved ones.

The third, sort of semi-public celebration takes place on both November 1 and 2 in the local Panteón, and this is the one I would like to focus on. Families stream into the cemetery all day long on these days, bearing other mementos of their loved ones, as well as armloads of flowers and plants, buckets and water. Here they decorate profusely the gravesites of their muertitos and gather together as a family, eat, pray, play music or reminisce. There is a wide range of beliefs about the practice and meaning of all this. Not all actually expect their dead loved one to join them in this celebratory feast. Some do.

It seems to me a much more appropriate and fulfilling way for foreigners to participate in this part of the fiesta, rather than just coming to the Panteón with our cameras and intruding—some more sensitively than others, where these families are playing out their annual ritual—would be to participate. More than 10 years ago I suggested that we too could bring armloads of flowers and other decorations or mementos to decorate the gravesites in the large section of the Panteón which is reserved for foreigners. On these days of November 1 and 2, this section used to be the saddest of places. It holds the gravesites of many foreigners, some who lived in San Miguel for many years and made outstanding contributions to the community, but whose families and contemporaries are no longer here to celebrate them. Why not change that and make our section of the Panteón glow with remembrance on those days too. That way, we become be participants in a totally appropriate and inclusive way, and not just observers of the annual fiesta.

I have sent this letter to Atencion almost every year for around 10 years and it has made a difference at the Panteon. There are now many flowers on the graves in the foreigners’ section. Every year some residents and visitors read it for the first time and contribute in their way. So once again I suggest that we participate in our community in a practical and appropriate way. May you also remember and celebrate your own beloved friends and family who have passed on and participate with the expat community in our shared remembrance.

 

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