Take a trip with me - Day of the Dead in Monterrey, Mexico


A little bit of history
The day of the dead, also known as "Dia de los Muertos" is a Mexican festivity celebrated on November 2nd. It can be dated back all the way to the indigenous cultures, and is presently celebrated in different parts of the world, where you can find a large Mexican population. The representative character of this celebration is “La Catrina”, which is an icon represented by a skeleton dressed up in fancy Victorian-esc outfit.

This celebration starts late October, with the coming of Halloween. Then it follows with the day of “All Saints”, which is November 1st, and is the date in which we celebrate all the Saints that don´t have a specific celebration date, and the kids that have passed away. Finally, the “Day of the Dead” comes, and we continue the celebration by remembering our adult relatives that have departed into their forever slumber.

Growing up and discovering this Holiday
As some of you may know, I was born and raised in the Northern part of Mexico, in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon to be exact. I was in a private English school, so I did not see much of the celebrations regarding the day of the dead in my school. However, I knew that on the Day of the Dead, we had to go to the cemetery to clean the graves and bring flowers to our departed family. We often went to visit my grandfather´s grave, but on this particular celebration, we went to visit graves from great grandparents that where in other cemeteries. It was always a great occasion to learn more about their lives and other information that now comes in handy when working on our family tree.

Altars are a very big thing during this celebration. These reflect different artistic aspects of this cultural event. When I was in music school, I saw my very first “Day of the Dead” altar, and it was beautiful. It had food, photos, flowers, and a lot of love to it. It was a wonderful and new experience for me, even though it had been a practice done literally for ages. What this meant for me was that, you did more than just cleaning tombs and bringing flowers to your relatives on those days. Since we already did that every now and then, the Day of the Dead didn't seem that special. It just meant that everyone in the Country did that on the same day for their relatives that had passed. Now that I knew that there was more to the date, it became a very intriguing celebration with loads of potential to express your love for those that had gone, and to exploit creativity.

Later when I went to public school, I noticed that many schools did the Altar ritual, and it wasn´t just venues like my music school, in which you had a lot of artists putting their work together. It was really something that the culture in general practices, and I was just part of an excluded world for being part of a foreign institution. Which in a way I understand, however, since the institutions were in Mexico, they should have never exclude the day of the dead. I mean, they celebrate the Independence of Mexico and so on.

What I found out was that Schools tend to make altars for Historical characters, and also for the founders of the schools. Most of the times the public schools in my hometown are named after a character from the Revolution or the Independence, therefore they build an altar for that person.

It really opened a new perspective to the Holiday, and I must say that I loved it, since I really appreciated the work people gave into the remembrance of a loved one or admired character for those who created the altar.

At the parks, you could see altars dedicated to celebrities, and local figures. One of my favorites was when visiting the Foundary Park (Parque Fundidora), in which a lot of workers died, reason why it was shut down in the early 1900´s; they had a lovely altar for the workers that once left their soul and heart in that place. Some people even take advantage of the altar making to make concious on safety, which I think is a great thing.

There is another very traditional practice during this celebration; the "Calaveras". Calaveras in English means "Skulls". Technically, they are just poems that tell a story on how Lady Death, or "La Catrina" got to us or whoever the Calavera was written for, and to be frankly, many are hilarious. These are meant to be funny and usually have details about a person to make it very personal. In a way it is always a compliment to get a Calavera done for you. In the newspapers you can find them and they are usually meant for politicians or celebrities, but some people make them among friends. In a way it shows a very creative way to express how well a person knows you, since they have to add some distinctive features of your life to the story/poem, and with rhymes lead your character in the story to their doom. I know it may sound a bit creepy, but when you actually read them, they are very funny, because they were meant to be that way. I feel like this part of the tradition also helps with coping with death, because after all, we are all headed that way some later than others.

Let´s visit a bit of my Hometown for this celebration
This year, I am bringing you on a cyber-trip to my hometown of Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico and show you how some people celebrated this past “Day of the Dead”. The photos are courtesy of my mother, who kindly shared with me something that I truly miss about my hometown.

First of, I will show you some of the altars that were set in the “Park of the elves” (Parque de los duendes), in San Pedro Garza Garcia. This is a southern region close to the heart of Monterrey, and this practice is done every year. If you get to be in the city during these dates, you can go visit and you will see these altars placed there. Though I am sure that there are many more throughout the city, you just have to look.


Connecting with people
This was something new for us, and I honestly don´t know if they´ve done it in the past, or if it is the first year of this engagement with the audience, but the Museum of Mexican History made a “La Catrina” contest. As you can see, there were people expressing their creativity in many ways to represent this iconic character of the celebration, and literally bring it to life. I would have loved to be there and also vote for my favorites. Which ones did you like the most? They have numbers you can let me know in a comment.

Family Tradition
Finally my aunt, who is a great artist, also did her annual “Day of the Dead” party, in which she builds a huge altar to honor family members, and of course, some guests get to dress up too. I felt very happy to see a photo of my grandmother at my aunt´s altar. 

 Wait... Is that my mom's wedding dress the Catrina is wearing? Yes, yes it is! That fancy lady!

 And this is my lovely and beautiful mom. Not the one in the wedding dress, the other catrina! As I said, some people get to dress up on this day too. After all, it is a celebration!

 From my heart to yours
Here is my personal share with you guys regarding this date. I was very close to my maternal grandparents. My grandfather passed when I was 4, and my grandmother passed when I was 25. I have never gotten over their passing, and for me they are always with us. However, I felt sad that by the time I was to get married, they were not going to be able to be at my wedding. My husband and I had a great idea that seemed to be perfect. You see, the celebration of the day of the dead is mostly to honor those that have departed, but when you really pay attention, it is also a way to welcome them back. Somewhere along the line of this celebration, I heard that the departed ones are allowed to come visit us during the festivities of this date, and that is why you build the altar with some of their favorite food, drinks, and things, so that they can find their way to our homes. We chose to get married on November 1st, not only because we love the fall and the month of November, but also because it gave us the opportunity to invite our beloved relatives that have passed to be with us in the most important date of our lives.

There are many things that makes this celebration so special. It is literally a huge party! There is food, and flowers, and colorful decoration, but most importantly, everyone that you invite, no matter if they are dead or alive, gets to be there. I know in many ways it is a bit morbid, but when you get passed the “dead” part, you see it is a beautiful celebration that anyone can adopt, because we all have family that we love and are no longer with us.

What did you think?
I would like to know; Do you celebrate the day of the dead? If so, what do you do? If you don´t celebrate this date, would you consider doing it? At the moment we don´t really build altars in my home here in California, because it is very small, and we don´t really have space for anything to give it that special respect the altar requires. Plus we have cats and you know how that is. However, we have plans for once we move, because both my husband and I have Mexican roots, and we do feel it would be something special to show and teach our kids regarding their parents´ culture.

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