Restless Night: How the Day of the Dead is celebrated in Mexico

The best way to overcome fear is to laugh at its cause. Clarify a relationship with her, love her, in the end. This is exactly what the Mexicans do on November 1

After visiting the town of San Luis Rio Colorado, Sonora, “Around the World” was convinced that this is one of the most joyful holidays in the world.

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The bathroom door opens a crack and I involuntarily gasp as a skull peeks out of the crack. So Anita painted her face. “What are you all of a sudden? – I wonder. – Day of the Dead tomorrow!” “And I'm training!” – an eight-year-old girl is clearly pleased with the result. “Well, go on like this until tomorrow!” Monica, Anita’s mother retorts. day and night, and nothing will flow. In addition, traditionally, a lot of black is used for “deadly” makeup, and it is not easy to wash everything off afterwards. The annoyance of my friend Monica can be understood: after work she went to the cemetery to clean up the family graves before the celebration, and in the evening after such a busy day she intended to go to bed early.

Skeleton in closets

The Day of the Dead in Mexico is celebrated not for one, but for two whole days: November 1 & nbsp; – Day of the Holy Innocents, on which the dead children are commemorated (it is also called the Day of the Angels), and the next day the dead adults are honored. On the evening of the first day, a feast of begging for sweets is arranged for children. This tradition appeared in the north of Mexico in the middle of the last century, but in the last decade it has spread throughout the country.

Monica's parents have four grandchildren, a large and hospitable home. Almost all the little inhabitants of the town of San Luis Rio Colorado know the address. Therefore, in the morning, Monica and her sister Yolanda and I go shopping – delicacies for children, cosmetics for “dead” makeup (Anita's arsenal is not enough for everyone) and holiday clothes.

On the Day of the Dead, Mexican women dress up as Katrina, the symbol of death: they wear elegant black dresses and special hats with a dark veil. The image of Katrina was invented at the beginning of the last century by the Mexican cartoonist Jose Guadalupe Posada. In 1913, his engraving La Calavera Garbancera (“The Vulgar Skull”) was published.

The title uses a play on words: calavera in addition to the main meaning ( “skull”) also has figurative ones – “an unlucky person, a rake, a windy person”; and the adjective garbancera in those days in Mexico contemptuously called women with Indian roots, who were embarrassed by their origin and imitated European fashion.

Restless Night: How the Day of the Dead is celebrated in Mexico

The picture with a skull in an elegant women's hat exposed just such a lady with a whitened face, dressed in European fashion. Very soon, images of skulls and skeletons as living people became a symbol of the Day of the Dead, a popular story in newspapers and magazines, including as caricatures of politicians and other famous personalities. But the real boom came after Posada's work was quoted in 1947 by Diego Rivera.

A restless night: how the Day of the Dead is celebrated in Mexico

In his famous mural Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Central Park, he depicted a skeleton lady in a long dress, arm in arm with her original creator, and called her La Catrina (“dandy” in Mexican slang). Since then, Katrina has been not only the unchanging heroine of the Day of the Dead, but also one of the most popular Mexican symbols. A month before the holiday, skulls and skeletons appear in the windows of almost all Mexican stores.

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Angels are coming

Already at home, after shopping, I try to portray the “calavera” on my own face. Even with certain artistic abilities, this is not easy. Fortunately, on the Mexican Internet, photos of “deadly” makeup are presented in a wide range, along with tips on how to apply it.

Restless Night: How the Day of the Dead is celebrated in Mexico

The matter is not limited to a black-and-white imitation of a skull: bright flowers, ornaments and even portraits of folk heroes are painted on the face (of course, Frida Kahlo is especially popular), sparkles and rhinestones are glued on. Death must be bright and beautiful! Monica and Yolanda do it perfectly: many years of experience affect. I didn’t think that such playful makeup could change facial features so much, both for the worse and for the better.

You just need to know the secrets. The mother of my friends, the venerable 70-year-old Señora Dora, does not stand aside – and here are three generations of Catherine women posing for a memorable photo.

Restless night: how the Day of the Dead is celebrated in Mexico

We are already a little tired, but it’s too early to relax: we need to arrange sweets for the kids in bags, so that everyone has an equal share, otherwise the joy will turn into insults. In each bag we put puff pastry in the shape of a human figure – a traditional children's treat on the Day of the Dead.

“What time is it? Seven? We must hurry up, otherwise the angels will fly in now … ” – Dora speaks with knowledge of the matter. “Angels” are already waiting outside the door when we bring a table with sweets into the front garden. So far, only a couple of kids, a brother and sister, are in sight. They came with their mother and when they see us, they freeze for a second, and then shout loudly: “Tricky-tricky!”So the Mexicans changed the hard-to-pronounce English trick or treat (the Russian version of – “sweetness or disgust”). We give the children a bag and wait. Anita helps with undisguised pleasure: finally she is on the other, adult side of tricky-tricky.

Half an hour later, a whole line is built at the house. Teenagers accompanying younger brothers and sisters are also not averse to intercepting sweets. We run out of cookies, we move on to candy, and then to colorful corn flakes. In the queue, everyone behaves differently: someone waits patiently and says “thank you”, while someone quickly grabs a gift and, after pushing a neighbor, runs away. Monica goes into the house and brings us a glass of wine.

Restless Night: How the Day of the Dead is celebrated in Mexico

An hour and a half later, all the stocks of sweets have been exhausted in the house, and the “angels” are not over yet. I joke that in this country there are more children than sweets – large families are still normal here. But it's time for us to close shop. The kids are obviously disappointed and are in no hurry to leave, periodically shouting out tricky-tricky. One baby seems to be about to cry.

In this case, Monica has a “duty” candy in store, which she quickly puts into the girl's pocket. We enter the house and close the door behind us. Phew, it's finally time for a quiet family dinner! After all, tomorrow promises to be no less busy: a visit to the cemetery is planned.

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< h2>Skull with humor

“Death is democratic, because after all, from blondes, and from brunettes, and from the rich, and from the poor – from all people in the end only bones remain,” said the artist Jose Guadalupe Posada. The Day of the Dead is no less democratic holiday: it harmoniously intertwined elements of pre-Columbian culture and Spanish Catholicism.

Mictlantecuhtli, the Aztec god of the underworld, was often depicted as a bloodied skeleton or skull with teeth, and his wife Mictlancihuatl as a woman with a skull for a head. Miguel Angel Sanchez Tapia, a historian at the Anthropology Department of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, is convinced that the image of Katrina has become a modern version of Mictlancihuatl, which in the 20th century acquired a humorous and even satirical character.

Restless Night: How the Day of the Dead is celebrated in Mexico

In Aztec mythology, death symbolized the transition to another form of existence: 13 heavenly worlds were waiting for the dead from various causes. So, men who fell in battle, and women who could not bear childbirth, went to Omeiokan; those who drowned – to Tlalocan; and children who have not had time to become adults – in Tonaquatlán. Both the Aztecs and the Mayans believed that life and death were two equivalent hypostases that set the world in motion.

The Spanish conquerors brought a lot of death to the Indians, but their religion also promised eternal life, and death dancing with people , was a popular subject of medieval European religious painting.

In his work The Cult of the Dead, Sanchez Tapia writes: “The modern Mexican disguises his fear of death with humor, we believe that if we deal with death familiarly, then when we depart for another world, the bony old woman will treat us with the same understanding. And we portray her in sculpture, we caress her with poetry, we greet her with songs, we joke and sneer at her, we bake the bread of the dead in order to taste her, we are related to her with all our artistic crafts, in general, everyone carries his own calavera, no one from her run away”.

The Lovely Bones

The Mexican Day of the Dead was included in the UNESCO Intangible Heritage List in 2008. The traditions of its celebration are very diverse. For example, in Michoacán, paths to the altars are laid out with marigold petals and rockets are fired so that the dead find their way home. In Guadalajara, the largest celebration in the country is organized at the cemetery, and in Chiapas, harps and guitars are played at the graves. In Oaxaca, a puppet parade is held, and in Mexico City, a city carnival and a huge altar.

But a particularly exotic custom is practiced in the small town of Pomuch in the state of Campeche. There, on the eve of the holiday, the bones of the dead are washed in the literal sense of the word: they go to the cemetery, take out the naturally mummified remains of relatives from the graves and clean them. At the same time, it is customary to recall jokes and anecdotes that the deceased loved, and tell him about what is happening in the world of the living.

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Party at the cemetery

The next morning, “sugar skulls”, calaveritas de azucar are already flaunting in a basket with a smart bow in a prominent place in the living room: while I, Monica and Yolanda were sleeping, Dora went to the pastry shop and bought this traditional Day of the Dead delicacy.

Sugar symbolizes the joy of life, and salt (calaveritas are also made salty) & nbsp; – difficulties. This is part of the offenda – an offering that is placed on the home altar in honor of deceased relatives. In our house, the altar is dedicated to Dora's parents. Offrenda is always decorated with fiery marigolds: they embody the sun, warmth and love.

Another popular offering is pan de muertos, or “bread of the dead”, a sweet round bun made from yeast dough. And they put on the altar what a person liked during his lifetime. That's how I learned that Dora's mother loved to embroider, and her father smoked cigars and played poker.

Restless night: how the Day of the Dead is celebrated in Mexico

The second of November in Mexico is an official holiday, so you can go to the cemetery even in the morning. But my friends decided to arrange a dinner for relatives in the afternoon. Dishes prepared by a skilled family cook are put on the table one after another, people come and go, beer and tequila flow like water, and it begins to seem to me that we will not get to the cemetery.

But at 10 pm, Yolanda commands: “We take a case of beer and go. My friends are already there.” I don't know what surprises me more: the amount of alcohol or the fact that the cemetery will be open all night.

The road takes about half an hour. The necropolis from afar glows in the beams of spotlights and makes noise louder than any other city. In the parking lot, someone pasted a printout of the Day of the Dead prayer on a pole: “Most Holy Death, I appeal to you with all my heart as an immortal god who rules over mortals! Have mercy and be my guardian, give me what I ask for, until the very last day, hour and moment when his divine majesty orders me to appear before him.

To be honest, until this evening, my relationship with death was by no means so familiar. In our family, this topic was almost taboo: as a child, I was carefully protected from the funeral of grandparents, death was not spoken aloud. I think we didn’t really fall out of the generally accepted cultural code in Russia. When my father died a few years ago, I was on the other side of the world and could not come to the funeral. His unexpected death unsettled me, the pain of loss never completely subsided.

The party at the cemetery and acquaintance with an unusual culture, of course, aroused my interest, but now, making my way through the gravestones and people, dancing to a live mariachi game, I have absolutely no idea what words to say to Leo, Yolanda's friend. Until that night, I saw him a couple of times. A month ago, Leo lost his father, and we are heading to his grave.

“Oh, you finally got there, let's remember our muertitos!” & nbsp; – Leo, his mother and sisters take turns embracing us (even the dead Mexicans call a diminutive: muertitos, then there are “deceased people”). Next to the stone slab is a small table, and on it is a mountain of snacks and disposable tableware. We are immediately given plates and put tamales and corn on them. I don't even have time to realize how a glass of tequila appears in my hand. Apparently, we are not the first and not the last guests here.

Restless night: how the Day of the Dead is celebrated in Mexico

Yolanda, Monica and Leo start discussing the latest news, Leo's sisters – ask me about Russia. No one is crying, and with words of sympathy, I decide to wait. Life is in full swing around.

At the grave on the right, a band in the style of norteño (music of the Mexican north) plays. The song sings something about the beach and shrimp, which you should definitely eat. “Maybe more tamales? It's great to have you here!” – Leo for some reason hands me another full plate; Apparently, he drank a lot of tequila already. I think that I still need to say some words suitable for the occasion, and then some teenager on a skateboard almost swoops down on me. Leo pushes me slightly deeper, away from the path.

“My father also died,” I suddenly drop. “For a long time?” & nbsp; – “Eight years ago.” “Was he sick?” Leo asks after a short pause. “Not. I was going to the bus from the dacha, fell & nbsp; – and that's it. & nbsp; – “Mine is almost the same. It's too early, of course. But they were not weak and decrepit. Were full of life to the last, right? .. “

Another pause, and suddenly a barely perceptible smile appears on the face of my interlocutor: “They say that on the Day of the Dead they come here to look at us. So there is no need to upset them. We must rejoice. Life always triumphs. Even right now: here we are at the cemetery, and you must admit, there is more life here than in August in our San Luis! At least everyone else is still wearing boots.”

Restless Night: How the Day of the Dead is celebrated in Mexico

I chuckle. In the last month of summer in San Luis there is a 50-degree heat, and the city seems to be dying out: in half an hour on the street you can glue flippers or, as they say in Mexico, “throw off your golf shoes”. It's my dad's joke. He believed that you can laugh at everything in the world. It seems that my father will now emerge from the crowd and pat my ear, as always.

And I suddenly realize that for the first time in years I can talk about him without a lump in my throat.

Restless Night: How the Day of the Dead is celebrated in Mexico

Mexico, Sonora

Sonora Square 179,355 km²
Population2 850 330 people
Population density 16 inhabitants/km²

Area of ​​Mexico 1,972,550 km²
Population128,650,000 people
Population density 65 people/km²

AttractionsMuseum of Traditions of the State of Sonora in Alamos, Lake Laguna Prieta in the Sonoran Desert, Church of the Immaculate Conception and Monument to the Pioneers of America in San Luis Rio Colorado. , carne seca – sun-dried beef with pepper.
Traditional drinks bacanora – strong drink from agave, tepache – low-alcohol tincture on pineapple peel.
Souvenirs ironwood pepper mortars, painted wooden jewelry, ceramics.

Distance from Moscow to Hermosillo ~ 10,120 km (from 19 hours in flight excluding transfers)
Time10 hours behind Moscow
Visaelectronic permit
Currency Mexican Peso (100 MXN ~ 5.04 USD < em>As of November 2022)


Material published in Vokrug Sveta No. 9, November 2020, partially updated in November 2022


Maria Zhelikhovskaya

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