Celebrating those loved and lost


We thought we would miss the festivities, which just shows how much we still have to learn about Mexico.

My husband, Peter, and I arrived in San Miguel de Allende on the 2nd of November.

“It’s too bad we’ll miss the Day of the Dead,” I told Peter when he made reservations. I knew a little about the Day of the Dead. I’d seen the elaborate skeleton costumes and the cemeteries filled with flowers and families. I figured it would be all over.

But when we arrived the streets were festooned with streamers, and there were bright orange Mexican marigolds decorating every doorway. It did not appear the party was over yet.

My former sister-in-law, who is Catholic, explained it to me later.

“Oh! It’s All Souls’ Day!” she said. All Souls’ Day follows All Saints’ Day which, in Mexico, is the Day of the Dead.

There were long lines of booths where people were having their faces painted to look like skeletons in an infinite variety of styles. Everyone on the street was dressed in elaborate costumes — adults and children and even a few dogs. One little dog was dressed in festive local fabric in a vivid shade of pink.

“Aren’t you cute?” Peter said. The little dog lunged at Peter and barked. It’s hard to look vicious when you’re all decked out in pink.

There was a man carrying a brightly colored iguana on his shoulder.

“Is it your pet?” I asked his daughter. She nodded.

“Is it nice or dangerous?” I asked. She laughed.

A mariachi band played in the square and a woman sang songs that it seemed everyone knew except me and, finally, there was a parade with carriages pulled by giant draft horses in fancy harnesses, and enormous skeletons walking on stilts, and more bands, and police officers in dress uniforms riding in their jeeps and on their motorcycles, most of them with painted skeleton faces as well. It was marvelous.

But most memorable of all were the “ofrendas,” the altars put up all around the square to honor the dead.

Some were quite large, and they were decorated with brilliant orange marigolds, photos of the dead, food, tequila and other remembrances of things the deceased had loved. Some honored many family members. One was for victims of domestic violence. One was for men who had died on motorcycles. One was for a beloved nun. Most of them, we could only guess.

There was a framed photo of a beautiful woman that looked as if it had been taken several years ago. “Brave heart,” the sign below her said. Peter, who lost two sisters to cancer in the last two years, was deeply touched.

Because, beneath all the festivities, there was a serious side to this wonderful celebration. It was a day to remember the souls of people loved and lost. It was a time set aside to remember how short life is and how we miss those who have left us. It was a day to honor them and remember them and feel their presence more keenly than most days of the year. We wish them well. We hope they wish the same for us.

Peter and I had dinner in a restaurant after the parade had passed and the light was growing dim. There would be fireworks later on, as there is for every celebration. The restaurant was filled with people in beautiful, colorful costumes that all, in some way, reminded us that we should enjoy this sweet day and celebrate the dead — before we, too, join their ranks.

Till next time,

Carrie photos from the column and other fun stuff can be found at CarrieClasson.com.

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