How do you even begin to put into words such an incredible experience, as Dia de Muertos in Tzintzuntzan, Michoacán?
Tzintzuntzan is located on the Northeast shore of Lake Pátzcuaro, just a short drive from the city of Pátzcuaro. This is the place to be for Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead) in Mexico. So, we booked it from Uruapan in the late afternoon, and drove our hearts out to arrive just around nightfall.
We knew it would be packed with people, but packed was perhaps a bit of an understatement? The festivities started with a parade where people carried their graveside decorations down the main street (thank goodness we had already parked…it was hard enough to get through that street when there wasn’t a parade)!
We stopped and got some food to munch on. Maiya and Jared are always happy with tacos. Mommy is a bit tougher. I ended up having a roasted onion taco. Yeah, just onions..
Next, we walked slowly through the packed cemetery and observed the people keeping vigil by the graves of their loved ones.
According to Mexican tradition (and best worded by Wikipedia), the holiday marks a gathering of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died. Traditions include building private altars honoring the deceased using sugar skulls, marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed and visiting graves with these as gifts. The intent is to encourage visits by the souls, so that the souls will hear the prayers and the comments of the living directed to them.
Toys are brought for dead children (los angelitos, or “the little angels”), and bottles of tequila, mezcal or pulque or jars of atole for adults. Families will also offer trinkets or the deceased’s favorite candies on the grave. Ofrendas (offerings) are also put in homes, usually with foods such as candied pumpkin, pan de muerto (“bread of the dead”), and sugar skulls and beverages such as atole. The ofrendas are left out in the homes as a welcoming gesture for the deceased. Some people believe the spirits of the dead eat the “spiritual essence” of the ofrendas food, so even though the celebrators eat the food after the festivities, they believe it lacks nutritional value. Pillows and blankets are left out so that the deceased can rest after their long journey. In some parts of Mexico, such as the towns of Mixquic, Pátzcuaro and Janitzio, people spend all night beside the graves of their relatives. In many places, people have picnics at the grave site as well.
It seemed inappropriate to take flash photos of the people in the cemetery, and taking photos in the dark was an impossible feat with a camera like mine. So, I took video instead.
It was amazing to see the graveyard aglow with candles and alive with people and decorations on most graves. It was definitely more reverent-feeling, in sharp contrast to most typical Mexican fiestas. Most headstones were decorated with marigolds, flowers, and fruit offerings, however, some were so lost and forgotten that I found myself accidentally stumbling over them on my path.
After we left the cemetery, we went over to a street market with vendors selling a little bit of everything. We also came across a street performance of “Dance of the Old Men”. Something that is particular to Patzcuaro and this area, so I was excited to catch a glimpse of it (Jared’s hand holding the camera above the crowd caught the most)!
I hope you enjoy this video I put together of the small amount of footage I got.
It really doesn’t accurately capture the experience…but that’s to be expected. You will have to go there yourself!
That night we drove just a few minutes out of town and parked on the side of the road next to the Dennings, and slept in our van instead of our tent. It was much warmer, and the kids all got flat sleeping spots. Jared an I got to sleep on an incline, but with the kids all sleeping away, you can imagine we slept much better! In the morning, we made one more quick jog over to the cemetery to take some photos in the light.
If you are in Mexico during Day of the Dead, be sure to boogie on over to Tzintzuntzan, Michoacán!