Today, on November 2nd, as I opened Google I was greeted by a purple "papel picado" or Mexican lacey paper flag. In San Miguel de Allende, Halloween or el Dia de los Muertos has become a big deal.  Here, the ex-pat community has contributed alot of imagination and creativity into what has been an ancient tradition stemming from a blend of Christianity and Pre-Columbian religion.

While honoring the dead remains central, a type of Carnival that includes face-painting, masks, elaborate costumes and the skeleton -like fancily dressed "Catrinas", (first drawn by the 19th century satirist José Posada as a political statement), has taken off. Combining Hallows Eve, All Saints Day and All Souls Day, it lasts through November 2nd. 

Woman painted copy.jpg

According to a historical expert I recently spoke with, el Dia de los Muertos in San Miguel was not so prominent in the past.  Rather, it was celebrated during harvest time amongst the indigenous people in Michoacan, Oaxaca and Chiapas, with deep roots in pre-Columbian culture. For the Mixtec, Zapotec and Aztec cultures, the underworld is powerful and complex.  The Lord of the Dead, Mictlantecuhtli, depicted as a human skeleton with a skull and protruding teeth, and his wife Micteacichuatl lead souls to Mictlan, the Land of the Dead. Monarch butterflies who appear from the north at this time of the year are said to represent human souls.

Mictlantecuhtli, Lord of the dead

Mictlantecuhtli, Lord of the dead

How did this change with the arrival of the Conquistadores? As in the prominence of Guadelupe, the Virgin, the Catholic Church was clever at absorbing native beliefs and rituals. Perhaps this cross-pollination is still at work as gringos are also embracing el Dia de los Muertos but on a less commercial level. Instead of corn candies piled up by trick or treat kids, a sweet cake called "Pan de Muerto" is offered.

Seeking a "convivio" or dialogue with the dead may occur while visiting a tomb, or simple burial place. The temporary creation of home altars is also emblematic. Richly decorated with marigolds, (a flower with various interpretations depending on who you ask), they overflow with symbolic objects representing the four elements: earth, air, fire and water or salt, copal incense, candles, and water. Bottles of tequila make it all the more merry. A photograph of the dead person is now de riguer. Tonight on November 2nd I've heard that mariachis will be playing lively music in the cemetery. Imagine that back north? I doubt our Protestant heritage would go that far...