Day of the Dead

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North America » Mexico » San Luis Potosí » Xilitla
November 1st 2018
Published: November 2nd 2018
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Today is the main day of celebration for the ‘Day of the Dead’ festival. The festival actually runs from 31 October to 2 November but this is the main event! It’s a 3000 year old tradition dating back to the Aztecs based on the belief that all spirits are in limbo and this is the one day that they are allowed to return to earth.

We set out after a traditional Mexican breakfast. Personally, I find it bland and rather heavy but I eat it as I do not want the offend our hostess. Take a tin of baked beans without the flavour of the tomato sauce, mash them up and wrap them in a tortilla. Dribble fresh cream over the top. Add some raw shredded cabbage. Voila! I am aching for some fresh fruit and yoghurt!

This is a mountain town, explains our hostess, so everywhere here is either up or down. Eva is not joking as she leads us up a steep set of steps on a tour of the town. We live ‘down’ so it’s quite a climb up to the town square. Not that we are surprised, as it’s the route we took last night. Hopefully it will help us to keep the weight off.

Various groups are busy constructing altars in the main square. Our hostess has lived here all her life and knows everyone. She introduces us to many of her friends. First a basket maker who gives us an orange each and then an American lady who is supervising the altar buliding competition...she explains the significance of the structures.

The Mexicans believe that on this day, their ancestors cross back over into the land of the living to visit their families. Altars are constructed from available materials. Xilitla is a large region hence the alters differ in foliage depending on whether the greenery has been collected from the jungle or down in the valleys. The archway represents the gateway, by which the ancestors gain entry. Pathways of marigold leaves are made to lead the spirits back. The alters contain food and drink including alcohol. There are also candles to light the way. A tiered triple arch is the most traditional...the lower arch represents life on earth, the middle one, hades whilst the third and highest arch is heaven.

We leave the various groups to do their work and take a wander around the town. It consists of one main high street, the town square and a couple of minor side streets. There is a museum but it appears to be closed. A young girl approaches and puts out her hand for money. I offer my orange and it is snapped up in seconds. I decide to purchase a bag full as I doubt she is the only one that will be asking. I am right, the bag empties rapidly.

We spend the rest of the morning sitting in the square. There is a traditional Mexican band of three players performing, that is: a large guitar, a smaller guitar and a fiddle player. We also explore the church, a 16th century Franciscan building.

The altars are finished and ready for judging. We don’t know which one won as we don’t speak Spanish!

It’s mid afternoon and the storm clouds are gathering. We think we might be in for a bit of a soaking. It hasn’t dampened the spirits of the locals though...there are bangs and whizzes going off all over the place. It sounds like fireworks but none of the visual displays, leading us to assume it’s more fire crackers igniting.

We set off later than usual for our evening meal as we want to see the parade of the skeletons in the town square. It starts at 7.30pm, which probably means 8pm! We find a Mexican restaurant where we order ranch beef and French fries. As usual it’s not quite what we expect. The beef is not bad although I was expecting a steak and it’s more like mince...and fiery mince at that! This is accompanied by the usual portion of rice and beans. We can actually see the beans today, slightly better than the usual mashed variety but still rather bland. Thank goodness for the plate of chips!

We are out in the square by kick off time but sadly there is no sign of a parade in sight. The weather is miserable tonight. There has been a thin drizzle which is now close to torrential. We see a few of the skeletons milling around or dashing past under umbrellas but no sign of a parade. There is also supposed to be a spooky theatrical performance in the graveyard starting at 10pm...ish. Maybe that is cancelled too? We wait around for an hour before giving up and making our way back to the posada.

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