By Jennifer Calderon



A cultural expression




Mexico is a country with an overwhelming amount of cultural expressions, which can be and most of the times are very different from place to place. This is no wonder considering that in a way, this country is the result of bringing together the miscegenation of several pre-Hispanic cultures with Spaniard conquerors.



It takes only some insight to realize just how different people are in each part of the country. But the differences in contemporary Mexicans from, say, Oaxaca and Jalisco, have a deeper and more meaningful background than it would appear because they are, in essence, a different nation from birth.



The Toltec, Olmeca, Zapotec, Maya, Aztec, Huichol, Purepecha and Tarahumara are just a few of the many cultures from which the country was born. They all have their own looks, language, customs, food, dresses and overall culture; but no matter how different we are, there are several things common for all of us. One of them is the respectful celebration of the Dead.



It would take just too long to cover every indigenous custom for the celebration of the Day of the Dead in Mexico, but we don’t need to go that way to understand it.




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The Day of the Dead in Mexico is one of the most famous traditions in the world. Painted Catrina faces, colorful flowers, special buried tamales, sugar skulls, incense and typical costumes, wrap this ritual in a halo of mystery; but, there’s no mystery for the local people. Why?



A shared thought of our root cultures is the existence of at least three levels of “reality” including an Underworld, an Earthly land and some version of Heaven. The Maya culture depicts this clearly in the sacred Ceiba Tree.



For us Mexicans death is just one more step of life. That’s the very heart of this celebration, and the motif for calling it a celebration. In the imaginary of the Mexican, we agree with Vinicious Cobas impressions of Mexico. “In reality, no one actually passes away in Mexico”.



Everyone is remembered, everyone is cherished, and everyone is made present no matter how long gone. But then again, how to celebrate such a thing as death? The bottom line lies in that remembrance. Mayans call it Hanal Pixan or “Meal for the spirits”; Tarascos from Michoacán present their offering in the lake of Pátzcuaro; Nahuas from the Huasteca visit the graveyards and bring presents for the departed in the Xantolo style.




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Many expressions of the same feeling, love for those who are no longer in our earthly grounds, and respect for the lords of the realm of death.



Big festivals are held in several parts of Mexico, but the most genuine expressions of this festivity are held at home, by normal people and the tribute for those loved by us.



We asked some friends to share their stories with you. This is our heart’s experience for the day of the dead:




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Adriana Martín / Reservation Manager




“My first memory of something related to the Day of the Death celebration was in elementary school in Mérida city in the state of Yucatán. I was born in the island of Cozumel, and when I was a little girl my sisters and I used to dress up as vampires and ghosts and had lots of fun but I knew nothing about this ancestral tradition, how there are three types of “altares” or about the beautiful “cempasuchil” flower.



Once we moved to Mérida, at school it was an activity we made, all the students brought something to help decorate our altars, and it could be food, portraits of loved that we had lost, flowers of the season, desserts such as marzipans, “pan de muerto” or “merengues”, among other things. And we had festivals related to the Day of the Death were we would talk about how our loved ones would come and enjoy their favorite meals and dine at the altars we made for them, how this would help them in their afterlife. When I understood what this celebration was all about it immediately became my favorite! I think it has a very profound message, how the love for the ones that we have lost can transcend even after death, and how the death is not perceived as a vile and horrific thing but as a natural and inevitable state that can too be honored and respected.”



Rubén Vargas / Reservation Manager




“When I was a kid I used to spend the Day of the Dead at Tecoh, a mayan village an hour away from Merida. At first, I was only there to eat Pibes and Xec, and play with the kids; we weren’t allowed in the altar room because we were too loud.



As I grew older, I started understanding more about the altars and the celebration itself. The whole family plays a different role along the day. Young men take care of digging the underground oven and heating the rocks; young women make the preparations for Pibes and make kids help by pealing citrics for Xec. Older folks were in charge of the altars, prayers, and the solemn part of the celebration.



One thing I’ll never forget is when a friend’s mom (from Tecoh) passed away. A very special altar was placed only for her, and we didn’t cook Pibes that year. That’s when I learned that if there’s a loss in the family you cook “Black Stuffing”, a black broth very suitable for the occasion, instead.”



Teté / Ruben’s niece




“On the Day of the Dead I prepare an altar for my granny. It’s not much, but she’s very special for me, she shares my name although I didn’t get to meet her. The first time I learned about the celebration was in school, but it was Rossana (my other granny) who taught me the most about how to do it.



I think is important to remember family, because they are the reason we are here, and even though they are not around anymore, they never really leave. What I put in my altar is the picture of my granny, a small coke which my father told me was her favorite, a small piece of Pib Rossana cooks and colorful marzipans for dessert, afterwards I decorate it with flower I buy from the market with Rossana. I’ve been taught that in the Day of the Dead, at night, she nourishes from the food and love we put in it. I’ve been doing it for 4 years now.”




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