Tag Archives: Mexican Holidays

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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Las Fiestas en Enero–Jaripeo

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January has come around again, and it’s time for the annual festival in Moroleon. Although the events seldom vary, our own experience with the festival has.

This year, our now 13-year old young man begged and pleaded to go to the fair with his friends rather than with us. Our schedule remains complicated, so he had to wear his school uniform, rather than ‘cool’ clothes, but he said he had fun. The first week was 2 x 1 admission which included unlimited rides and the circus, now with no wild animals performances. They did add the log flume to the ride repertoire, although getting drenched in frigid January temperatures isn’t ideal.

william at the fair

At the fair

I’ve decided that I’m too old for amusement park rides–my equilibrium isn’t what it used to be. My husband has an extremely weak stomach and never was a big fan of rides. So he and I decided we’d enjoy the festivities by going to a jaripeo (rodeo) instead.

When we found out that the jaripeo would be in the Lienzo Charro Nuevo, which was specifically dedicated to el Sr. de Escapulitas, and had free admission–there was nothing more to do but march our little fannies across the road from La Yacata and attend.

Our son decided that he wasn’t interested in attending, so just my husband and I set out.

Even though the rodeo was less than a five-minute walk from our house, my husband insisted we take the truck. Apparently, walking to such events is just not done. Sure enough, we saw several of our neighbors with their trucks there.

My husband clarified that this was not a jaripeo, even though that’s how it was announced, but a charreada–a skills presentation rather than real rodeo, but I didn’t care. The nearest I can figure is a true jaripeo is fairly dangerous to bull, horse, rider, and audience and may result in the death of any of the aforementioned participants. Whereas a charreada seldom results in death, although injuries, sometimes severe, do occur.

The charreada became popular when there were haciendas in Mexico, adapted from traditions brought from Spain in the 16th century. Originally, the charreada was a competition between the families of neighboring haciendas. The charreada is made up of 9 events for men and one event for women, all involving horses and cattle.

I had some mixed feelings watching the charreada. I enjoyed watching the horsemanship and rope tricks. However, I felt sorry for the undernourished yeguas (mares) that were roped and tripped and harassed. Most seemed to be about the same age as our Joey, but so thin and small, with large patches of hair missing from their hindquarters. I asked my husband what happens if one of the horses is injured in the fall. Sadly, they are fed to the lions. Yes, Moroleon has lions at the local zoo. Unmanageable, sick, unwanted, injured horses and donkeys are bought and served up fresh to the small lion pack at Los Areas Verdes.

Partying in honor of Las Fiestas de Enero continued on until the wee hours of the morning on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. We opted to steer clear of that again this year. It’s cold, noisy, smelly and just not a whole lot of fun for us old fogies. The fair is here 2 full weeks and events such as the jaripeos are randomly interspersed in between. The “trastes”(dishes) stand also comes to town but no longer sets up with the circus. It rents an open area near Soriana for their tents now, probably cheaper. Dishes, glasses, pots, pans, cooking utensils, dish towels and the like can be found there. They aren’t less expensive than the regular stores, but there is more of a selection.

I have a special treat for those of you from Moroleon. My friend Claudia and I worked up a little book for children that highlights some of the more interesting historical tidbits about Moroleon.

portada 2The History of Moroleon for Kids (Kindle)

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El Dia de Los Muertos–Visible Mourning

que halloween ni que

I’ve had it up to here hearing about Mexican Halloween. It isn’t. It isn’t about dressing up, spooky stories, demons, or blood. Not Freddy Kruger, not poltergeists, not witches, warlocks or ghosts. It’s not about haunted houses, trick or treating, carved pumpkins or parades. It isn’t even about death.

It’s about life.

The celebration El Dia de Los Muertos in Mexico is the commemoration of the lives of our dearly departed and the acknowledgment of the loss the living experience with each death. Although I’ve lived in Mexico for almost 10 years, this is only the third year that I have participated in El Dia de Los Muertos events. And why is that? Because up until then, there was no one to visit at the cemetery. Three years ago, my mother-in-law was killed in an accident with a police vehicle. Two years ago, my husband’s grandmother in Cerano died at the age of 89. Now we have family to visit at the cemetery. And we do.

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We clean and place flowers. We sit and remember. We laugh, and we cry. It’s more like Memorial Day in the United States. Or maybe Veteran’s day. So it’s hard for me to understand the touristy aspect that has sprung up in larger areas.

student altar

The altars that are constructed in the town center in Moroleon are typically in honor of recently deceased community members. It’s a community mourning ritual. There are altars for recently deceased students, teachers, bakers, metalworkers, shopkeepers and more. The platforms constructed outside homes in Cerano are even more personal. So what would motivate someone to go to some community of which they are not a member to gawk at this mourning ritual?

A child's crypt. Notice the toy cars and pacifier behind the glass.

A child’s crypt. Notice the toy cars and pacifier behind the glass.

El Dia de Los Angelitos, November 1, is even more personal. Altars constructed in the town center or outside homes are created in memory of children who have died–some recently, some not so recently. It’s a personal homage. It’s not for me to intrude on this public manifestation of grief. After all, it is no more or less than a visible reminder that the dead are gone but not forgotten. Families visit the graves of their “little angels” and leave flowers and toys. Brothers and sisters are made aware that there was another that remains a part of the family although no longer physically present.

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The sugar skulls are personal–you don’t buy a bag. You buy one and have a name written on its forehead. The figurines are personal–the catrinas are frolicking about in death much as the deceased did in life–drinking, dancing, singing, making music, even making love. The offerings left at the grave or incorporated into the alters are personal–favorite sweets, favorite toys, favorite drinks. The home altars are personal. Each one is constructed with the deceased in mind.

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Perhaps it is the fact that these personal traditions are done publically that gives the impression that it is something to gape at–like one would at the zoo or a museum. Death and loss are not hidden away here. They are accepted as a part of life, not detached from it. Is this idea such a curiosity in modern times that guided tours are needed?

pan de muerto

The rituals of El Dia de Los Muertos bring comfort to the living. The altar or ofrenda is constructed just so. The days of remembrance are sacred. But times are changing….

The school board waited until the last possible moment to authorize the day free from classes. The official calendar has November 2 listed as a school day, while November 16 is a non-school day for El Buen Fin, in some effort to compete with the US’s Black Friday. What does that teach the children about the value of tradition?

This year at the panteon (cemetery) in Moroleon there was a sign telling visitors to denunciar (report) people stealing from the graves. What do they steal? Flowers? Children’s toys? A bottle of coke? Who would take these things? For what purpose? Has it really come down to a culture that steals from the dead rather than honors their memories?

Some larger towns and cities now provide parades, contests, theatrical presentations, mass-produced foodstuff, and trinkets. Wal-mart even offers a Halloween/Day of the Dead mixed selection for your buying pleasure. This tradition that in 2003 was named as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity is now up for sale.

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But for us, the ritual that is El Dia de Los Muertos remains personal. It reminds us that those that have preceded us in death remain part of our present lives. They helped shaped who we are today.  It isn’t a fascination with death.  It isn’t an obsession with death.  It’s an acknowledgment of death and a celebration of life.

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May Holidays in Mexico–El Día del Maestro–Teachers’ Day

El Día del Maestro (Teachers’ day) is celebrated on May 15th. Recently, this has been marked by a school suspension granted by SEP which means a day off for teachers. Whoohoo! It was first celebrated in 1918 in Mexico.

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San Isidoro Saint Isidore the Farmer

According to some, May 15th was chosen because of a celebration in San Luis Potosí. Students gathered every May 15 to celebrate the birthday of a teacher named Isidoro, named after Saint Isidore the Farmer, (San Isidoro) whose Saint Day is May 15, the day of his death in the year 1130 or 1172 depending on the source consulted. Isidore, the farmer, not the teacher, was made a Saint in 1622. Saint Isidore is often depicted as a peasant with a stalk of corn and while apropos for Mexico, not exactly a teacher representation.

Come again?

Ok, let’s try that again with a little more explanation. It is common in Mexico to name children after the Saint honored on the day they were born. Or at least to have the Saint as part of the child’s name. So you might hear Justin Isidore or Nancy Maria these days.  My mother-in-law named all of her 11 children after the saint day closest to their birth. Anyway, the teacher Isidore was born on May 15 of whatever year, which happened to be the Feast Day of Saint Isidore the Farmer. May 15 was Saint Isidore the Farmer’s Feast day because he died on May 15 in 1130 or 1172. I’m not sure how that local celebration caused the national holiday to be commemorated on May 15 though.

Another historical, though an unrelated event, happened in Mexico on May 15, 1867. The forces of Benito Juarez captured the city of Querétaro on this day. Wiki says that this is a secondary reason for the date chosen. Why a military victory should determine when Teachers’ Day should be celebrated is beyond me.

What seems more likely is the following:

Pope Leo XII made Jean-Baptiste de La Salle, the French priest, educational reformer and founder of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, a saint in 1900. The pope gave La Salle May 24 as his Saint day. Pope Pius X added the Saint day of to the General Roman Calendar in 1904, however as May 24 was already taken, he changed the Saint Day to May 15.

Jean-Baptiste de La Salle

Jean-Baptiste de La Salle

The good Catholic founding fathers of Mexico were familiar with the Catholic Saint Calendar and appropriately chose a teacher-saint day as the official Teachers’ Day celebration way back in 1918.

In 1950, Pope Pius XII declared Jean-Baptiste de La Salle the patron saint of teachers and confirmed May 15th as his saint day. Then, in 1969, Jean-Baptiste de La Salle’s Saint Day was changed by Pope Paul V to April 7, which was the date of La Salle’s death. However, Mexico kept right on using May 15 for this holiday.

Moroléon, up until this last year, hosted a dinner and raffle for teachers. As a teacher, I was able to attend several years in a row and enjoyed the mediocre food, music, dancing but was never selected as a raffle winner. Last year, someone in the Presidencia (town hall) decided that teachers weren’t worth the public expense and canceled the town party, although the raffle still took place. I didn’t win anything and don’t know anyone who did. A bit suspicious that…

In most private schools, the owner provides a lunch or dinner to express his or her appreciation for the work the teachers do on the owner’s behalf. After all, the teachers are who make or break a school. My current employer has been generous with both praise and “extras” these past few years and I, for one, have appreciated it immensely.

May is quite the month here in Mexico. Every time you turn around there is another celebration! For other Mexican May holidays see: El Día de los Trabajadores, Conmemoración del Escuadron de Pelea 201, El Dia de La Santa Cruz y El Dia del Albañil, La Batalla de Puebla, Natalicio de Miguel Hidalgo, El Dia de la Madre, El Jueves de la Ascensión, Pascua de Pentecostés, El Día del Maestro, and El Dia del Estudiante

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