Several of you have asked me to post information about Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) celebrations here in Mazatlán. This holiday is one of our favorites, and we’d love for you to enjoy it as much as we do!
The tradition goes back prior to the import (or imposition) of Christianity to the New World. As in other indigenous belief systems around the world from Asia to Africa to Latin America, Mazatlecos believe that once a year departed family members and friends come back to this world to visit their family and friends. And who wouldn’t want to take advantage of a once a year opportunity to party again with departed loved ones?!
Bakeries, Candy Stores and Artesanía Shops
One of the first signs that Day of the Dead is approaching is that you begin to see pan de muerto, bread of the dead, in the bakeries. These loaves of bread are often put on a family’s altar and then eaten after the ancestors have had their fill. You will also see calaveras or skulls made of sugar and amaranth, decorated with brightly colored frosting, for sale in the bakeries and candy stores. If you are visiting Mazatlán during the end of October or first days of November, be sure to stop in a bakery or two, and definitely visit a traditional candy store.
Also be sure to visit one of the many handicraft shops around town, as you will find wonderful Day of the Dead souvenirs, including traditional ceramic Katrinas and calaveras, skeletons representing people working in all sorts of different professions and engaging in sports and other hobbies. You’ll find lots of souvenirs to take home. Between the bakeries, candy stores, handicraft shops and even the fabric stores, you will find loads of wonderful gifts to take home.
Next you will begin to see altares or family altars. Many families put together an altar to welcome back their departed loved ones.
On a table or a multi-tiered piling of crates, they put out photos of loved ones along with articles that belonged to them, cempasúchitl (marigold) flowers, tissue paper flowers, salt, candles, and water. Ofrendas or offerings of favorite foods or drink and items from favorite pastimes are also set out to entice the dead to stop in and stay a while.
There is an art to making an altar, and here in Mazatlán you will see everything from charmingly simple to very elaborate altars. Some years the Mayor’s Office or Secretary of Tourism have put out a map of the altars available for public viewing (usually the ones that will be visited during the callejoneada, below), so it’s worthwhile to check if a map’s available. If not, walking around the streets of historic downtown is definitely worth an afternoon or evening.
If you are in the Golden Zone, you will find that many hotels and other businesses set up altars, often for famous people that have passed on (i.e. Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe). Many of the altars are really heartwarming, showing incredible love and attention to detail.
The Callejoneada Parade, Evening of November 1st
Unlike celebrations with lengthier histories and more solemnic processions such as those in Michoacán or Oaxaca, Mazatlán’s Day of the Dead celebrations involve donkeys that pull gigantic kegs of free beer through the streets of downtown.
This callejoneada, a parade through the narrow streets of the Centro Histórico, takes place from about 6:30 pm on the evening of November 1st. It begins and ends in the Plazuela Machado, and afterwards families tend to hang out for cena or late night supper. Before the callejoneada there is frequently a performance event in the Angela Peralta theater. Many years there have also been public performances in the Plazuela Machado after the parade. Check schedulesor ask around to be sure what’s on when you’re here.
|The white Katrina accompanies
children to the afterlife.
|The black Katrina accompanies
adults to the afterlife.
The callejoneada is, for us, a not-to-be-missed event. Our very talented young dancers and actors from the Centro Municipal de Artedress in costumes.
Live bands join in.
Many in the crowd also wear skull masks or skeleton costumes, and a group of hundreds if not more than a thousand dances and sings its way through the streets of downtown, visiting the various altars to help the white and black Katrinas accompany the souls of those who have left this life during the year safely to the afterlife. Do not miss the callejoneada!
Wear comfortable shoes, do not hesitate to push your way up to the donkey cart for some free beer (wear clothes that you won’t mind having beer spilled on), have your camera set to night action mode, and be prepared to enjoy!
Be sure to visit the municipal cemetery or another, smaller one during Day of the Dead.
Most families will visit the graves of their ancestors to clean the gravesite, to set out fresh flowers, and, often, they take along a picnic, hire a band, and party a bit, right there in the cemetery!
While the children play, grandparents, uncles and aunties, Mom and Dad share a beer, eat some lunch, and reminisce about the dearly departed. I trust someone does this on my behalf some day!
As you approach the cemetery you will see flower shops and impromptu vendors selling all sorts of gorgeous flowers and decorations. Entering the cemetery, you will often see bands wandering around, hoping to be hired. Also, many workers are available to help tend to a tombstone, or simply carry water. It’s well worth a couple of hours. Most years we have been invited by friends to join their celebrations, though the first year we were here strangers invited us to join them.
“Roasting” the Living: Newspapers and School Fairs
Another tradition this time of year is to celebrate the living as if they were dead. I believe this somehow reminds us all that we are on a one-way path through life.
The first time I witnessed this was at my son’s school. We walked in to find fake gravestones lining the walkways, with the names of (living!) teachers on the headstones! Each headstone contained a calavera or funny poem about the teacher. You will see many of these calavera poems in the newspaper, written about major politicians or celebrities in the news.
Friends will have the names of their (living) friends put on one of the sugar skulls, so that the friends can “eat their own death.” To someone not familiar with these practices it can seem a bit eerie, but it’s all done in good humor and filled with affection. One year at our son’s school they did “living altars,” where the kids acted out famous dead people.
The Catholic diocese here tends to encourage people to celebrate Day of the Dead and very much discourages any celebration of Halloween, often referring to it as a witch’s or devil’s holiday. In Mazatlán, however, you will see children dress up in costumes and go trick or treating at the Gran Plaza or within El Cid residential development, usually on the evening of October 31.
Young adults, from junior high school on up, hold costume parties for Halloween.
Most of the dance clubs also hold Halloween parties. You’ll also see a lot of very sexily costumed young people waiting in line outside the clubs to celebrate a version of Halloween that, in my day, had not yet been invented 😉
We do hope you’ll enjoy Day of the Dead (and Halloween), Mazatlán style!