Thursday, October 25, 2012

tales from the candy crypt

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.


jennifer rose said...

Secure in the knowledge that my house is impervious to TP'ing, I have tried to explain the time-honored tradition to Mexican youth, only to be met with stares of incredulity. 

Steve Cotton said...

Maybe hanging bathroom waste baskets from tree limbs would work like training wheels on a bicycle.

Kim G said...

Until you really understand it, Day of the Dead can appear quite ghoulish, what with all the skulls, katrinas, candy coffins, and the like. But once it's explained that it's a day of remembrance for loved ones passed on, it's quite touching, really.  Here in the USA, it seems that we bury our dead, and then try to get on with life as quickly as possible. But I think remembering loved ones who've passed on is a nice tradition.

As for Halloween, I have no problem with the idea that Mexicans might well too celebrate it. It's a fun, guilt-free holiday. No one feels bad about not flying across the country to be with family on Halloween. Instead, we all throw a big party. So that's all to the good.

What would be sad for Mexico would be if Halloween were to displace Day of the Dead.


Kim G
Boston, MA
Where we've returned home to turning leaves, and the beginning of raking and blowing season.

Andean said...

In some spanish countries, the day of the dead is celebrated as all soul's day, it's a very Big thing to honor the dead of our loved ones. Very traditional as far as as specific food and drink are made, one called "colada morada", a fruity drink, and a pastry, called "guagas de pan", I grew up with it.  
Very Different from the halloween, in the States.

Steve Cotton said...

But oddly absent from most homes here in Melaque.  As you know, this is simply a different Mexico than the highlands.

Steve Cotton said...

I was enthralled with the Mexican comfort level with death.  Ever since I was about four, I have been fascinated with the undiscovered country.

Andean said...

I think it ends up an individual celebration, I still do what I grew up with whatever or wherever, I happen to be. Because it is a big one, to celebrate and remember. 

I'm sure, as you say, other places may celebrate it more, as I heard some of your neighbors may go off to the highlands for those reasons. If I was there I would do the same. It's a special celebration, in remembrance.

Steve Cotton said...

And my mother celebrates Memorial Day in that same spirit.