Category Archives: Religion

An Evolution of El Dia de Los Muertos

It has come to my attention that there is some debate about the proper name of the events that go on in Mexico on November 2.  Apparently there is a section of the population, although I’m unclear whether that population is Mexican or of Mexican descent, that believe the name is Dia de Muertos instead of the longer El Dia de los Muertos.

It is true that language is fluid and constantly evolving and the shortening of a name is a common occurrence.  After all, in the English language, All Hallows’ Evening is now known as Halloween and bears scant resemblance to how it was originally observed.  So it seems El Dia de los Muertos is undergoing a transition as well.

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For example, this year, our town that aspires to be a city, had a whole weekend of “Dia de Muertos” events in addition to the traditional altares en el jardin (alters in the center garden).  It was unprecedented!  There was a parade, just like in the James Bond movie, (well, almost) and a Catrina/Catrine best costume competition and even bikers dressed as skeletons out for an after-dark bike ride.

That’s not to say that El Dia de Los Muertos has never changed before. After the Spanish conquest, the original date for this celebration of life was changed to coincide with All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. Instead of obsidian disks, glass mirrors are brought to the cemetery now with the hope of catching a glimpse of departed loved ones.  Walmart now makes the pan de muerto (bread of the dead) instead of local bakers which left me without a sample of that sweet bread this year.  Sigh.  “Dia de Muertos” has become trendy and left behind the traditional El Dia de Los Muertos in many areas. Tourists flock to cemeteries to gawk at the tombs of the dead, adorned with love and cempasúchil (marigold) flower petals.

Even with all these new-fangled additions brought in locally, on November 1, known locally as El Dia de Los Angelitos, and on November 2, El Dia de los Muertos, everyone was en familia (with their families) at the panteon (cemetery).  I suppose the Civic fathers knew enough not to directly interfere with these customs and for this reason scheduled the events over the weekend instead of the high holy days.  

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And for us, it was still personal and private.  We visited my husband’s grandparents’ tomb in Cerano in the morning. We visited my husband’s mother’s tomb in the afternoon.  We left flowers and pictures and talked about our memories so that they will not die the third death yet, the death that comes when there is no one left to keep them alive in their hearts.

See Also El Dia de Los Muertos, Tio Felipe, The Day of the Dead)

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Chambelan at the church

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Part of my son’s duty as a chambelan (escort) was to attend the pre-party misa (mass). The church of choice in Moroleon is El Templo del Señor de Esquipulas. The church had been adorned with a few additional touches, like this white flowered lighted tree thingy.

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The ceremony began with the priest anointing everyone with holy water and a march down the aisle to stand before the altar. The Quinceañera had a special seat front and center while the court (chambelanes and damas) had seats to either side of her. Her parents and godparents were also up front.

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I’m not Catholic, and although my husband is, he’s never attended this special Quinceañera mass, so wasn’t much help in explaining things. There was a sermon. The gist of it was that the Quinceañera was now an adult and able to make decisions as an adult, but as a woman of faith, those decisions should be in line with what the holy church dictates. The godparents passed a lit candle to her, representing their obligation of transmitting the flame of faith to the Quinceañera. The Quinceañera read from a red book that I assume is the particular holy book for such events. She promised her devotion and offered her heart to the faith.

Te ofrezco, Se­ñor, mi juventud; guía mis pasos, mis acciones, mis pensamientos. Concédeme la gracia de comprender tu mandamiento nuevo, el mandamiento de amarnos unos a otros. Que tu gracia en mi no resulte vana, te lo pido por Jesucristo, tu Hijo, nuestro Salvador y Redentor. Amén. (I offer you, Lord, my youth; Guide my steps, my actions, my thoughts. Grant me the grace to understand your new commandment, the commandment to love one another. May your grace in me not be in vain, I ask you through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Savior, and Redeemer. Amen)

There was some mention of La Virgin de Guadalupe, and I saw a bouquet of flowers in the Quinceañera’s colors of blue and silver at the foot of her altar.

Madre mía, presenta mi ofrenda y mi vida al Señor. Sé siempre mi modelo de mujer valiente, mi fortaleza y mi guía. Tú tienes el poder de cambiar los corazones; toma pues, mi corazón y hazme digna hija tuya. Amén. (My mother, I present my offering and my life to the Lord. May you always be my model of a brave woman, my strength, and my guide. You have the power to change hearts; Take, then, my heart and make me worthy your daughter. Amen.)

There was some praying, some kneeling, some standing, some bell ringing and some sitting. I wasn’t able to understand it all with the acoustics in the church being what they were.

I did find the promises that the Quinceañera made above and some additional information on the mass procedure. (Misa de  Accion de gracias de Quinceañera, Quinceañera misa guia, Misa para celebrar los 15 años)

Then there was the call to partake communion. At this point, my husband’s latent Catholicism kicked in. He nearly jumped out of his seat with the comment that our son could not partake of the wafer. I just rolled my eyes. Our son certainly was astute enough to know that without being told.

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The Quinceañera and her entourage marched back down the aisle, concluding the services. My husband and I took our leave. We headed to the centro (downtown) for some churros and cacahuates (peanuts) while the picture taking session took place.

About an hour later we headed to the party hall to continue the festivities.

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Las Posadas and Modern Day Marias

Las Posadas in Mexico is a 9-day nightly reenactment of Maria and Jose (Mary and Joseph) searching for lodging on their travels to Bethlehem.


In the song, it’s all very sweet when the housekeeper (he insists his home is not an inn) finally allows Maria to huddle in the stables to give birth and all, but have you ever wondered what type of woman Maria was to even make this trip? What kind of courage did it take for her to leave her friends and family to come with her husband, who wasn’t even sure about marrying her in the first place? (Matthew 1:19 ) Then when she finally arrived in Bethlehem after a long, tiresome trek, she didn’t even have a place to stay. Talk about poor planning on Jose’s part! Can you imagine how it must have pained her to be in active labor and still at the door negotiating for a room as depicted in Las Posadas? Did the housekeeper’s wife convince him to offer them refuge that night? Did she attend Maria as she gave birth? Was Maria surrounded by a community of women or was she alone? Was a midwife summoned? Was it a difficult birth? Were there complications? Did she cry with joy when she first lay eyes on her firstborn? How was her recovery? Did she have problems nursing? Did the baby feed well? Who let those shepherds into the stable? Were they just bringing in their flocks for the night or did they come to gawk? I’m sure she wasn’t really up for visitors right then. Must have been another one of her husband’s bright ideas. (Luke 2: 1-20)

Then, after the visit of the three astronomers (Los Tres Reyes) some months later (not a handful of days like the Three Kings’ Day tradition suggests), Jose dragged her and her young son to Egypt, where they lived as foreigners until King Herod’s death (Matthew 2:1-23). In a land of strangers, who did she turn to when her son was colicky? Who made the poultice to keep the baby’s fever down? Who laughed with Maria as they watched him take his first steps? Who made up her community of women so far from home? Was she able to negotiate a good deal at the market? Did the sellers take advantage of her foreignness or her inability to communicate well in the language? Did she have anyone to listen to her complaints when Jose had one too many at the local gathering house? Did her first Passover celebrated without her family cause her to weep with homesickness?

Well, we can only imagine what Maria’s life might have been like, how she managed, what joys and sorrows she saw, what challenges she overcame. From what little we know about her, she was a woman of faith, chosen among women but firm in her modesty. The Las Posadas song and Mexican culture give her the added title of being the Queen of Heaven among titles but she considered herself no more than a servant. (Luke 1:48) It’s too bad those inspired bible writers left out so much of her story. Men!

I thought that instead of rehashing the holiday traditions unique to Mexico (See Christmas in Mexico) this year, I’d share stories of women, who like Maria, left the land of their birth to live in a foreign land. Perhaps by reading their stories, we might imagine what Maria’s early married life may have been like. I hope you are as inspired by the stories of these modern day Marias as I have been.

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Fogatas, tapetes and San Miguel Arcangel –Bonfires, sawdust and Michael the Archangel

Uriangato, the neighboring town that also believes itself to be a city, has an incredible community festival in September to honor their patron saint, Michael the Archangel. It begins on September 19 and is followed by 8 days of activities, finishing with an event called La Octava Noche on September 29.

From September 19 to September 28, each household lights a small bonfire with ocote wood (a type of pine native to Mexico) in front of their homes each night. These fires are called candiles literally translated as lightings as they are said to light the path of San Miguel Arcangel during this novena (9 prayer days).

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I have to say that the first time I witnessed this event, I was startled. It’s quite a sight, fire after fire, street after street. Of course, it’s origin is prehispanic.

From what I understand, this local tradition was associated with the god Curicaueri, whose name in Purepecha means great fire, and who was credited with the foundation of the state of Michoacan. (Uriangato is a mere hop, skip and jump from the present day border of Michoacan.) Curicaueri was considered the oldest of the gods and was honored by the lighting of bonfires with ocote wood.  Some of this long ago origin remains in the form of indigenous dancers that perform during the events.

There are peregrinaciones (pilgrimages) over several days usually in the form of parades made up of local civic groups.  The parade route takes the pilgrims to the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, the main Catholic church in Uriangato.

The other major event associated with this festival is the creation of tapetes, floor mats. These are labourously created with colored sawdust, seeds, and flowers along the roads in Uriangato. They usually take the form of a variety of Catholic images and are tread upon by the passage of the image of Michael the Archangel on October 6, known as La Octava Noche (the 8th prayer day in the novena). The tapete tradition is said to have begun in 1966 and each year becomes more and more elaborate.

The custom to take out the image of San Miguel and walk through the town at night, in a similar fashion to El Senor de Esquipulas in Moroleon, began after the Spanish conquest. It seems that only the Independence War and the Cristero War kept the procession from well, proceeding. It starts and ends, naturally enough, at La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel and covers an area about 5 km long.

The image is carried by different groups of volunteers with rest and prayer stations found along the route. This year, the image has been covered in protective glass, which better protects the 50 ornate vestments from the elements.

Here are some of the outfits.

It really is a unique festival and should you happen this way during the holy celebration, it is definitely worth checking out.

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