Most of my northern friends know of only two Mexican holidays.
The first, of course, is Cinco de Mayo (created almost exclusively by Corona beer), which is almost unanimously confused with Mexican Independence Day. Wrong date. Wrong adversary.
The other is Day of the Dead. And the inquiry usually starts a bit obliquely. "So -- you go to that Day of the Dead stuff? Pretty weird if you ask me."
Unfortunately, my answer is that I have never seen what they remember from some Discovery channel clip. I was looking forward to seeing a lot of traditions when I moved to Melaque. But I came to the wrong part of Mexico if I want tradition.
There are very few buildings in town that are older than I am. History has swirled around this bay, but left it untouched. We have no monumental Indian structures. No colonial buildings. Almost everyone here came from somewhere else. It is a beach town with a beach town sensibility toward tradition.
Especially, in the Mexican highlands, Day of the Dead -- where families perform rituals to commune with their departed relatives -- is a public ceremony. Some would claim that it has been Disneyfied to further attract tourists.
In my village, there are no public displays in the cemeteries. Some people participate in the privacy of their homes. Others don't bother.
The only public display of the holiday I have seen was in the San Patricio town plaza. The schools sponsored an evening where students could set up booths to honor loved ones. Complete with photographs, memorabilia, and the favorite foods and drink of the deceased.
It had all the sense of tradition of a science fair in a northern middle school gymnasium. Without the vague odor of sweaty gym clothes.
But this year, I am going to see the real thing. Mex-Eco Tours is conducting a trip to Pátzcuaro at the end of this month to see what Day of the Dead looks like in its flowery glory. 31 October to 2 November. If I had stayed cool in Pátzcuaro for an additional month, I could have met up with the tour there.
I will save the details and the background material for posts during the trip. But a holiday that has the word "dead" in it is bound to be a favorite of mine.
By the way, Dan says there are seats available. If you haven't signed up, you still can.
But that is not the only holiday Mexicans celebrate in that time period. 31 October is Halloween.
Even though Halloween is celebrate in many countries, the grand productions of costumes and trick or treat booty has a distinctly American flavor. And Mexico is a cultural magnet for anything fun. Especially, if it involves getting to dress up in masks. Octavio Paz would have quite a bit to tell us on that topic.
In Melaque there is very little evidence of the Day of the Dead merchandise that chokes retail shelves in the highlands. But Halloween paraphernalia we have.
I took this photograph on Melaque's main street a few days ago. The display is almost maskless today.
When I went to Manzanillo this week, there were tables of Halloween candy in Walmart. Racks of costumes in Soriana. And piles of pumpkins at Sam's Club. Just waiting for trick-or-treaters in training.
Some of my expatriate friends bemoan the northern Halloween invasion. The same people who are shocked at the presence of Mexican middle class families enjoying Starbucks and Burger King.
But Mexicans know a good thing when they see it. For thousands of years, new ideas have been stuffed into the cutural olio that is Mexico. And something fun like Halloween is not going to be tossed aside.
So, while I am on my way to Pátzcuaro, a handful of trick or treaters will saunter by my blackened house where no treats await them.
When I get home, I may discover how those giant packages of toilet paper for sale at Sam's Club may have a seasonal purpose.