"I am looking forward to coming to Melaque at the end of the month for the Day of the Dead celebration. I have never seen it there. Only in Pátzcuaro."
Her name is Brenda. A frequent visitor to the highlands of Mexico, who started reading my pieces when I was scouting for a house in Pátzcuaro. In anticipation of her first visit to Melaque, she sent me an email to ask which cemetery in town would have the most decorations.
I have actually answered that -- or, at least, a similar -- question. Last year, about just this time (night of the dead -- the prequel), I was heading to Pátzcuaro this time last year when I summed up Melaque's take on night of the dead.
Our villages do not celebrate day and night of the dead with the same ritual solemnity practiced in certain parts of Mexico's highlands.
That does not mean we do not celebrate it here. When it is honored, it is usually in a far more subtle style. Whether at home or during brief visits to the cemetery.I had given the impression in an earlier essay that Night of the Dead had not taken root amongst our peripatetic villagers when the government decided in the 1960s Night of the Dead would be imposed on places where it had never been celebrated. For Pátzcuaro, nothing much changed. But it was a stranger to northern Mexico. And, to a degree, in the little villages around our bay.
Hank, an occasional commenter, and Dora, the woman who helps me keep my house tidy, noted my earlier hyperbole. But the argument is still this same. If you want to see Night of the Dead at its peak, head to the highlands.
Here, the cemetery in the municipal seat comes as close to being an open celebration. Otherwise, we have the extreme of private ceremonies at home and somewhat overblown public exhibitions staged by high school students and local businesses.
This year, I will miss even that on my trip to Denmark.
From the merchandise at La Comer in Manzanillo on Wednesday, it looks as if Night of the Dead may be pushed aside a bit more by another American culture invasion -- Halloween.
The photograph shows only one rack of costumes. There were three rows of duds for fairies, princesses, vampires, and a rather-chilling Black Monk. Along with plastic jack-o-lanterns to collect all of the trick or treat goodies the neighborhood may offer. That would not be my neighborhood.
At least, they were not these day-glo jack-o-lanterns I have seen displayed along the road around Morelia during October. But it is the first truck load I have noticed here. Mind you, I usually am not looking for such paraphernalia while I am driving.
If you are interested in Night of the Dead at its best, take Dan Patman's tour to Michoacan. And, if you are looking for evidence of the ceremony here, stop by the jardin in San Patricio.
The students always do a creditable (if eccentric) job of celebrating lives past.