Day of the Dead: overhyped, overrated & underwhelming. What did I miss?
Replies: 27 - Last Post: Nov 12, 2012 6:09 AM Last Post By: dmhaun
Nov 5, 2012 6:55 AM
15You went to the wrong place for DoD. I have been to Oaxaca and was underwhelmed, like you. Then I discovered Lake Patzcuaro, one of the few places that has Noche de Muertos, Night of the Dead, with grave sites shrouded with marigolds and candles.
It is easy to step-off the beaten path. In my village around the Lake, we were the only gringos there and Noche de Muertos was beautiful Feliz viaje, David
Nov 5, 2012 1:40 PM
Nov 5, 2012 2:33 PM
17#17, maybe you didn't read the actual responses of people who live here... it is not a "somber, private affair" with crying, grief-stricken family members, for goodness sake. That would be a funeral.
Yes, there are private, in-house aspects to it, but it IS a spectacle in many (not all) parts of the country, where lots of family members return from other locations to be together, and many (including the dead) drink a great deal of alcohol. Comparsas, bailes, processions... these are all public events that anyone is genuinely welcome to attend. Understand that DotD is, at its root, a celebration, and trying to force a more western viewpoint on it – ie, "this is about death, so it must be terribly sad," is a mistake.
That said, I'm sure that some people DO go to Disneyland to celebrate their dead grandma, especially if it were her fave place... to each their own.
Nov 6, 2012 8:10 AM
18My reactions to the discussion thus far:
"Certainly did not enjoy the feeling of interrupting families' private moments while they were gathering together to welcome back their loved ones. While a bunch of tourists stuck tripods, long lenses and whirring flashes here and there and trampled on freshly dug earth. The atmosphere in el Centro in the week before was without doubt incredible, but I'm inclined to say that as an experience for a non mexican with no real connections here, visiting cemeteries on DoD is overhyped and overrated... Maybe we just didn't do it right... I don't know." (in the OP)
I think your reaction was a correct one, given what you witnessed and experienced at the cemetery. I've witnessed many DoDs in Mexico and I limit my cemetery visits and concentrate on interacting one-on-one with people in their homes. Having a local friend or contact to move about with is preferable, but many of my home visits have been solo. If you can communicate fairly well in Spanish then the challenge is lessened. When I'm at the cemetery it's usually to help friends or people I've met clean the gravesites in advance, then I return to share some moments with those families with whom I already know or have made contact with. Though I take a lot of photos when traveling in Mexico, I rarely take photos in cemeteries when people are present. I return just after DoD to do that. I do, however, and with permission, take photos of altars in the homes. Regarding "Centro" in Oaxaca ... it's important to remember that Oaxaca is probably the most overrated destination in Mexico. It's become Mexico's Disneyland for tourists who want a one-stop-fits-all Mexico visit. Centro can be hugely touristy. I've been to the city/area of Oaxaca for DoD and I don't suggest that others visit there. But there are villages relatively close where observances can be witnessed and where you can participate. The more you know about Mexico and the more experience you have traveling in the country the easier ti becomes to know just how to accomplish what you want. We all move about with 'training wheels' for a period. Consider your visit one of many lessons.
"it CAN be everything from an intensely private family affair to a raucous celebration of life, and it really just depends on the particular culture and location." (@13)
The above pretty much sums it up.
"I always recommend people try to go with someone local if possible and if not, to not intrude. I think it is interesting to tourists because the Mexican approach to death is not what they are used to. Many tourists come from cultures where death is a sort of taboo, to be ignored if possible, and if not, then approached indirectly and timidly with euphemisms. Being exposed to the Mexican perspective might tend to increase consciousness." (@3)
"My husband and I wandered around and stopped admire the graves, which really were spectacular, and to talk to some of the people. We asked them if they would tell us about their loved ones. We had brought a small photo of my husband's grandmother, who had recently died at age 102, and we talked about how people in the US do not have the same traditions surrounding death, and that is why we are so interested in Day of the Dead. We always asked before taking any pictures of specific graves. Most of the people were very open to talking with us, though I'm sure they were still puzzled why tourists would come to a cemetery." (@9)
Sensible. Respectful. It's similar to how I behave when observing the DoD. I, too, talk of family members who've passed on. I more often visit homes of people whose doors are open and alters visible where I'm almost always invited in. However, I always visit the cemeteries; sometimes to pass the night with families.
"One is the Mexican family kind of observance with skulls candy and pan and lots of flowers and the other is the original Indigenous type of observance with flowers, food, music." (@12)
I see mostly one style/type of observance. The favorite foods of the dearly missed and departed family members and friends, their photographs, some items of clothing, beverages, lots of flowers but little in the way of music. There are many "indigenous" groups in Mexico and there's no one set way all observe the days similarly.
"I believe it is meant to be a fun party no matter where you see it." (@14)
"Animal House" it isn't. I believe the maker of this comment misunderstands the origins, customs and traditions.
"Then I discovered Lake Patzcuaro, one of the few places that has Noche de Muertos, Night of the Dead, with grave sites shrouded with marigolds and candles." (@15)
Though Michoacan certainly has rich cultural traditions, the maker of the above comment might be surprised that there are places in Mexico other than Michoacan and that Noche de Muertos is a fairly common observance in many parts of the country. There even marigolds and candles elsewhere, too.
"#17, maybe you didn't read the actual responses of people who live here... it is not a "somber, private affair" with crying, grief-stricken family members, for goodness sake. That would be a funeral. … Understand that DotD is, at its root, a celebration, and trying to force a more western viewpoint on it – ie, "this is about death, so it must be terribly sad," is a mistake." (@19)
I don't think anyone of us needs to lecture #17 on Mexicans or Mexico. Regarding the reaction to the "somber, private affair" comment ... the observances and the atmosphere is very often influenced by how recent a loved one has passed. I've witnessed some observances which were heart-wrenchingly sad because a father or mother had passed a month or two prior. While there is joy in the remembrance of the life (and lives lost) there can be sadness, tears and crying as well. The significance of or observance of or meaning of DoD isn't universal. And interpreting reactions, such as examples I've mentioned, as "western viewpoint" is wrong.
Nov 6, 2012 9:01 AM
Nov 6, 2012 10:11 AM
20LW when I say it is meant to be a fun party I do understand what it is all about. I go to the cemetery with Indigenous people to fix the graves up and go with family s to the cemetery. When they have Chinga's dancing and bands playing while the whole family sets around drinking pox and beer. Everyone is celebrating life and the life of the dead person. It is a fun party not animal house as you say.
Nov 7, 2012 10:36 AM
21Good posting, Bill.
#22, so you went to places where it is a fun party. Fine. But, where I live, it is a community and family reunion. Naturally, it will vary from town to town.
I will guess as an outsider you are more likely to be invited to a fun party than to a sad family reunion. Just saying.
One family we are close to (the father is working on my house as I type) lost their grandmother the weekend before the DOTD. After the burial, the 15 year old girl, one of my free English class students, was so distraught she curled up in a ball in the dirt beside the grave, and broke completely down. Her family gathered around her to shield her. They did not have a fun party on the DOTD.
Let me tell you how my day went. I am working on my wife's genealogy. I have a lot on the P. family, not so much on the connection with Emperor Moctezuma I, that connection is known but there are historical gaps. The former state secretary of the Casa de Cultura is working on the Moctezuma descendants' history for this region, if he lives to finish it. The Moctezuma records are allegedly in Library Polifaxiana in the state capitol and only accessible to authorized researcher.
So, I have spent a lot of time over the years talking to members of the P. family. Interviews, and sharing what others have said in previous interviews, and sharing what pictures I have and copying any I don't have.
Before I went to the cemetery, I grabbed up an envelope of a few P. photos I have copied from various households of the P. family, I wanted to give a copy of my wife's great-grandfather photo to Emilio P., an elderly man who still lives on the old P. ranch. No one knew such a photo existed; it came out of no where, when I gave a cousin of my wife a ride to her village. That photo caused more excitement than any other photo I have found. He died before 1900.
First, I went to the graves of my wife's mother; father; grandparents; etc. and chatted with close family.
Then, I went to chat with anyone else I know, including her cousin's family at their graves. I encountered three young women who I played with when they were kids, now all grown up but still friends. Karen, who was 11 when I helped her with her Engish, is now in her third year of a Physical Therapy degree, and I told her to invite me to her graduation.
Then, I went to the new section to visit the grave of Pancho P. who was run down by a driver-less truck eight years ago, in front of my eyes. The family well knows I saw him killed, no one else did. So, they always greet me kindly, and understand I am paying my respects to him and his family.
Then, I go to the main place in the old section where the older P. members are buried, with tombstones still existing from as long ago as 1898. (Rare since they are made of soft marble.)
I gave Don Emilio the photo, and we talked for quite a while about the photos. While we were looking at the handful of other family photos I had, from as long ago as 1895, other family members came up. Boy, were they excited to see pictures of their own ancestors, and of course I had to explain to each one where I got the pictures and how. Several made arrangements to see the other old photos, I have around 42 of them gleaned over the years, and most are unaware such photos exist.
(When a person has an old picture I ask permission to scan it in their home, then make as many copies for family as they request, free, Usually 4X6, but for a very special ancestral picture as large as 10X15. When pictures have damage, I repair on my editor as best I can, which really surprises people here. In some cases, I ask permission to give a copy to the Casa de Cultura, and after I make the CdC picture, return, show it to them, and verify it is still okay to give it to the CdC.)
This continued from late morning until around 6 pm. There was some laughing and joking,and at times a vendor would wander by, and someone would buy and eat a snack or drink something.
At one point, a band did play and sing the beautiful old Mexican love songs. And, the priest came and had a mass around noon.
Outside the cemetery, were all sorts of food vendors, including barbacoa and a wide variety of foods and drinks of all kinds. If there was any partying, it was out there.
When I got home, my wife had been frantically calling all over town, looking for me. She said, "You never come home after 2 pm on DOTD."
I told her, "That's because I never had enough women to talk to after 2 pm." Heh, heh.
Nov 7, 2012 4:17 PM
22If in Oaxaca it is Xolo (never heard of it before), here in Puebla Huequechula is the main DoD village. It is famous for it's big altars. Some 30 families open their houses and you can just walk in a have a look at the altars. There offer you fruit water, hot chocolate, some biscuits etc. There is a basket where you are free to leave some donation. So it is quite touristy and the zocalo is full of food stalls, like at a feria. Every year more and more people go there, thousands (it is the 28/10 - 02/11) mainly Mexicans from the Puebla area. Nothing really sereen, but I guess remembering passed family members then happens within the privacy of the family when the tourists are gone. I've never seen a "party" either, it is just people eating and drinking and talking, nothing wild.
So I agree, it is different for many Mexicans, they celibrate in their own way. My family in law decorates the altar a bit at home, prepare a meal at home with some calabaza, then go the cemetery to place flowers. So as a tourist it might be good not to expect to much from the DoD, although if you've never seen it you will enjoy the coloufull decorations.
Nov 7, 2012 6:21 PM
Nov 7, 2012 9:05 PM
24#20 Not having visited many destinations in Mexico, I can't say whether Oaxaca, where I have been twice, is "the most overrated in Mexico." I loved it, obviously enough to make two trips. I will say that on our second trip, which was for Day of the Dead, we did find the zocalo much less enjoyable than on our first trip, which had been the previous March. Way too crowded, with vendors taking over much of the space, and yes, a lot of tourists. (Well of course--- we ourselves are tourists! Why would I expect us to be the only ones?) It was still interesting, but we were so glad we had been able to enjoy it in a less crazy time. On that previous trip, we had enjoyed just sitting and people watching, seeing the families strolling with their little kids, etc. During Day of the Dead, we decided to do our "sitting" in the Llano Parque, where there were no tourists and life seemed to be going on more or less as usual.
Nov 10, 2012 12:16 AM
25It depends where you go, theres even some indigenous ceremonies of DOD where they all wear masks and dance, they wear masks in order to fool death. If you go where all the gringos go you really wont understand what its all about. Next time go with a local. Its a ritual but its also a celebration of our dead!
Nov 10, 2012 6:17 AM
Nov 12, 2012 6:09 AM
27Thank you #20. I would like to know of other areas of Mexico that celebrate Noche de Muertos, with all night family vigils at the graves. All I can find are places that lock the cemetery gates at night, like San Miguel. Or Oaxaca, where N de M is a tourist attraction. Thanks for your help with this.
"Though Michoacan certainly has rich cultural traditions, the maker of the above comment might be surprised that there are places in Mexico other than Michoacan and that Noche de Muertos is a fairly common observance in many parts of the country. There even marigolds and candles elsewhere, too."
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