So a couple of days after we arrived was the festival of the Day of Dead here in Mexico – it traditionally spans two days from the 1st to the 2nd of November and is truly a local festival for the remembrance of dead relatives. The belief is that during these two days, the barriers between the world of the dead and the living are removed and so if we put together little altars for our dead relatives, filled with their favourite things from this world, then we might entice their spirits to come back home for a visit. I love this idea – it implies that the world of the dead is distracting enough that the dead wouldn’t immediately seek the living during these two days – thus the need for attractive altars etc.
If you go to the markets during the days leading up to the Dia de los Muertos, you will find street vendors selling all sorts of things for use in the altars – a favourite seems to be sugar candy skulls – literally skull-shaped sugar rock candies, and also, less commonly, skulls made of chocolate, or sweet tamarind paste. You would buy one skull for each of the dead relatives you wish to entice back and at the end of the two days – the children of the house can eat them. Our host told us about how she and the other kids would fight over who would get to eat ‘Grandmas’ skull!
You can also buy little miniature versions of things that your dead relatives might have liked in their living days – things like little wee bottles of tequila, mezcal, beer, cigarettes, or even plates of steak or tacos, or empanadas, or soup! Though I think most people would put out actual real life versions of all those things – it was really cute to see the mini versions for sale in the older markets.
The tradition is that on the 1st of November, the spirits of the dead children will return, and on the 2nd, the adults. Odd, macabre, but also quite wonderful 🙂