Posts Tagged ‘Day of the Dead’

Young and old, male and female…

it’s a family affair, labor of love…

as the tombs of San Antonino Castillo Velasco are painstakingly decorated on November 3.

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This year, around and about Oaxaca during Día de Muertos, especially for my skeleton loving grandson.  (Click on images to enlarge)

Besos y abrazos, Abue. ;-)

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Today I ventured down to Calle de Ignacio Rayón (the block between the Benito Juárez and 20 de Noviembre mercados) to purchase flowers for my Día de Muertos ofrenda (an altar of offerings).  On the list was cockscomb (cresta de gallo or borla de Santa Teresa), marigolds (cempasúchitl), and veruche (also known as flor de muertos).  I wasn’t alone, the sidewalks were crowded with other shoppers in search of the same traditional flowers, fruits, nuts, copal, and other items to place on their ofrendas.


Veruche is a tiny relative of the marigold that grows wild in the valley of Oaxaca at this time of year.  Yellow was the color of death in southern Mexico, long before the Spanish set foot on the continent and, along with the scent of the flowers and smoke from the candles and copal, it is thought to attract the difuntos (spirits of the dead) to bring them to the ofrendas prepared for them.

Muchisimas gracias to Shawn D. Haley for his informative presentation at the Oaxaca Lending Library on the Zapotec celebration of Día de Muertos.  Needless to say, I also purchased the book he coauthored with photographer Curt Fukuda, The Day of the Dead: When Two Worlds Meet in Oaxaca.

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If it’s November 2nd, it must be morning muerteada madness in San Agustín Etla .  A few faces in the crowd from the Barrio San José contingent…


These guys had been dancing through the streets all night.  Cervesa seemed to be the beverage of choice this morning, though, bottles of clear liquid was also being passed around — and I’m sure it wasn’t  water!


Had to snap this guy — not only was his makeup gory and great, he topped it off with a San Francisco 49er cap.

P1030731 copy

And, then there was this boy…  As with all the traditions here, children observe, learn, and participate at a very young age.


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As a treat for residents and visitors during the Muertos festivities, last night and tonight, the City of Oaxaca is presenting, “Manjares de Todos Santos” — a video mapping light and sound show at Santo Domingo de Guzmán and the Basílica de la Soledad.  Last night was a mob scene at Santo Domingo, so we opted for Soledad, where we had a ringside seat.

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Chris, of Oaxaca-The Year After fame, shot video and I will post a link when he gets it uploaded to YouTube.  Update:  And the link is: http://oaxacanyear.blogspot.mx/2014/11/mapping-la-soledad.html

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Calacas for my grandson…

From the streets, sidewalks, and windows of Oaxaca.

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Visits to mercados in the city and Tlacolula have been made.  Along with mandarinas and manzanas, cempasuchil and cresta de gallo have been purchased.

Women selling marigolds and cockscomb

Pan de muerto has been selected…

Pan de muertos

A calaverita has been chosen…

Sugar skulls

Mezcal and water have been poured, dishes of chocolate and salt prepared, candles brought out, and photos of departed family and friends and a few of their favorite things have been collected.  Yesterday, it was time to prepare my ofrenda.

My muertos altar

As dusk descended, friends gathered; the candles and copal were lit…

Close up of my muertos altar

And we offered our silent — and sometimes not so silent — prayers to the baseball spirits to bring victory to the San Francisco Giants in game 7 of the World Series.

San Francisco Giants' cap and photo of my grandparents

The spirits listened!!!  Thinking of you, grandpa….

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Last night, flipping through my Cablemas channels, I happened upon Martin Scorsese’s 2011 film, George Harrison: Living in the Material World.  I’ve seen this beautiful documentary before, could watch it many more times, and how could I resist, on Black Friday night, the wonderful irony of the title?  I’m sure George is chuckling somewhere.

Yesterday marked the twelfth anniversary of George’s death (no doubt the reason it was being shown) and, as I watched and listened to Olivia describe the importance George placed on preparing for one’s death, I couldn’t help but reflect on Día de los Muertos.  All things must pass; death as a part of the journey of being.  And, some of this year’s Muertos photos seemed to be ready to let go of most of their color…

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All Things Must Pass
by George Harriso

Sunrise doesn’t last all morning
A cloudburst doesn’t last all day
Seems my love is up and has left you with no warning
It’s not always going to be this grey

All things must pass
All things must pass away

Sunset doesn’t last all evening
A mind can blow those clouds away
After all this, my love is up and must be leaving
It’s not always going to be this grey

All things must pass
All things must pass away
All things must pass
None of life’s strings can last
So, I must be on my way
And face another day

Now the darkness only stays the night-time
In the morning it will fade away
Daylight is good at arriving at the right time
It’s not always going to be this grey

All things must pass
All things must pass away
All things must pass
All things must pass away

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As we have done in previous years, we returned to San Antonino Castillo Velasco on November 1 to watch families begin the preparation of the graves of their loved ones for Día de los Muertos.  In a process unique to this pueblo known for the cultivation of flowers, family members mix the area’s very fine dirt with water; spread it on the top and sides of the grave; smooth it with a trowel, as if they were getting ready to lay tile; using a nail, they outline designs and religious imagery into the mud coating; and then use flowers (fresh and dried), to “paint” the scene.  

This year’s late rainy season brought torrential rains on November 2 and it must have interrupted the decorating, because when we returned on November 3, at the same time as usual, there was still much work to be done.  However, no one seemed the least perturbed; peace, tranquility, and quiet joy prevailed and, as always, it enveloped us.

(Music: Marimba band performing, “Díos Nunca Muere,” written by Oaxaqueño composer and violinist Macedonio Alcalá.)

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The souls  have departed.   And, following 33 hours of travel, my BFF (along with her alebrijes by Alberto Perez and the Xuana family, a traditional black and white rebozo, bottle of Del Maguey mezcal from Chichicapa, several bags of Conchita chocolate, and a fabulous mohair rug woven by Antonio Ruíz Gonzalez), has returned home to the frigid climes of Alaska.  However, gal pal, souls, and the mortals with whom we shared the past, have left warm and lasting memories.  They have also left an exhausted gringa, whose brain feels like one of those overloaded small trucks one (more than occasionally) sees on the roads here.  With every nook and cranny filled, they move at a snail’s pace, be it along a pot-holed dirt road or the carretera, balancing their top-heavy loads.

Our week began on October 29, when the sounds of a band Pied Piper-ed us down the street and around a corner to a comparsa of high school students, who were taking part in a competition of using recycled products for their costumes and floats.  Alas, the rains came and eventually chased us home.

On October 30, delectable dining (lunch at La Biznaga and dinner at Los Danzantes) nourished multiple museum visits and allowed us to join the standing-room-only crowd at the Oaxaca Lending Library (without rumbling stomachs) to watch the wonderful new documentary, La Festividad de los Muertos, chronicling Day of the Dead in Teotitlán del Valle.

Then there was Thursday, the 31st….  A shopping expedition for flowers, sugar skulls, bread (pan de muertos), and two 10-foot long stalks of sugar cane to form the arch over my altar.  I carried them the 10-blocks home on my shoulder (sheesh, they are heavy) and carefully navigating the busy sidewalks.  According to BFF, I provided pedestrians and passengers in buses,cars, and taxis much entertainment.  I didn’t see a thing — I was just trying not to trip, fall, or whack anyone in front, behind, or to the sides of me!

Once the candles, photos, bread, chocolate, beverages (cervesa, mezcal, and water), and meaningful objects to our departed were in place; flowers arranged and cempasuchitl (marigold) petals scattered; and the arching sugar cane affixed to the wall surrounding our ofrenda, we made our way down to the beginning of the CEDART comparsa.

Later in the evening, we drove up to the panteón in Santa María Atzompa.  Passing the bright lights and crush of food, flower, pottery, and other vendors that line the entrance and finally emerging from under the arched gateway, the candlelit ethereal beauty of the cemetery on this night never ceases to take my breath away.  Of course, it wasn’t all exquisite and unearthly enchantment.  This is Mexico and so there was also a (very loud) band and the cervesa and mezcal flowed freely.  I’m sure the difuntos (deceased) enjoyed themselves and partied hardy with the living until the sun rose.  And then all slept.

On the other hand, we left at a reasonable hour, as we were only at the mid-point of our Día de los Muertos marathon.  More to come…

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It’s been a magnificent Muertos filled with memorable moments and special people, along with a feast for ALL the senses.  An initial pass through the photos has weeded them down to 450.  Yikes!  Lots more weeding and processing to do.  In the meantime, here is a snapshot from the past 5 days.

And the magic continues today, when we return to San Antonino Castillo Velasco.

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An ofrenda is an offering, an integral part of the Day(s) of the Dead celebration, filled with meaning, a beacon to the departed, an ephemeral work of art, and the sum of its lovingly chosen parts.  And so, last night my aforementioned BFF and I constructed our ofrenda.

Día de los Muertos in Oaxaca… so much to show and share with those we love.

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My BFF (since age 12 — I won’t say how many decades ago that was) arrived last night from Alaska.  It was her first trip to Mexico and it took 22 hours.  Of course we talked late into the night, thus the morning unfolded slowly.

However, eventually we emerged into the hustle and bustle of the temporary muertos stalls near 20 de Noviembre mercado, to begin purchasing the elements for our Día de los Muertos ofrenda:  Apples, oranges, and nuts to nourish the spirits, cempasuchitl (marigolds) to guide the spirits, cockscomb to symbolize mourning, and copal incense to draw the spirits home and ward off evil .

Muertos Altar

As you can see from the above chart, we have much more to buy and bring out of the storage closet.  And, the above list doesn’t even mention sugar cane stalks!

h/t Chef Pilar Cabrera for posting the chart on Facebook.

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Cempasuchitl, catrinas, and comparsas.  El día de los muertos is coming…

Mural at the corner of Aldama and Hidalgo in Barrio de Jalatlaco.

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Life and death is a family affair…

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November 1 and 3, 2012 in the panteón municipal, San Antonino Castillo Velasco.

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