Day of the Dead Mazatlán 2018

DSC_0057Mazatlán knows how to put on some of the best parties ever, and I say that with a lot of worldwide experience, not lightly. This year’s Day of the Dead alley parade or callejoneada did not disappoint. Visitors from the interior of the country, elsewhere in Latin America, north of the border and Europe all reported to me thoroughly enjoying themselves and the revelry that is Día de Muertos in our port.

The callejoneada this year was held on November 2nd instead of the traditional 1st, due to the changeover in city government. Thousands attended the annual festivities, which are some of the most exciting and participative in the country. The parade began at 8:30, and there were performances inside the Angela Peralta Theater, as there have been in other recent years.

The alley parade wound through downtown past several traditional altars, and included at least three bands, several dance groups, costumed stilt walkers, and mobile sculptures. As is traditional, families with children were in the majority. It’s my favorite part of this night: seeing multiple generational families in costume enjoying our city and one another!

The callejoneada returned to the Plazuela Machado where several stages were set up with live entertainment till the wee hours. There seemed to be a lower percentage of costumed revelers this year, but the hundreds who dressed upped the game and looked fantastic. Local makeup artists outdid themselves with creativity and color.

New this year was that the parade began at the Plaza República, winding the three blocks to the Machado and then beyond. It gave a bit more breathing room to the official participants before being bombarded with the thousands of spectators who joined in from the Plazuela.

Also new this year were official catrinas that were sponsored, namely, four or so of them sponsored by our beloved Venados baseball team. While they were gorgeous, and this was very cool, it added a commercial element to our traditional alley-winding that I found rather sad.

Sadder still was that for the first time in many years our local Pacífico brewery was apparently not a sponsor. Not only were there no kegs in sight, ruining a joyous local tradition of people handing up their cups, but Indio beer was served in cans, by gruff people lacking the usual joy! Finally, first we lost our traditional donkey cart, which was understandable, but this year we had tuk-tuks! How in the world is that traditional to this part of the world? The beer fiasco was perhaps the most epic fail of the evening, as complaints were heard far and wide over how kodo (cheap) the new administration was; the lines for Pacífico at the Kioskos went nearly around the block, with people choosing to purchase their beer.

Another disappointment was the fact that the organizers have discovered cheap Chinese imports from the likes of Waldo and Sanfri. We were treated to mass-produced skeleton Halloween costumes rather than the gorgeous handmade garments we are so used to, and numerous inflatable plastic decorations and cardboard skulls were to be seen on the stages and posts of the Plazuela, in contrast to the beautiful handmade papier maché artwork from our local art school. I pray this error will not be repeated. Mazatlán’s art scene deserves way better!

The callejoneada for Day of the Dead this year was more Carnaval-like, with dance troops performing routines that lent themselves more appropriate to Fat Tuesday than to Day of the Dead, and one of the wheeled calacas/skeletons lit with lights in a similar manner to a carroza/float in the Carnaval parade. As is usual we did have Carnavál royalty participate. I can vouch that those gorgeous women even look good dead! 😉

My favorite costume was that of my friend Linette: the death of Lady Liberty. While I hope and pray for my birth nation that it is not true, her costume rang too close to home; I appreciated its poignancy.


Every year we seem to attract more people to this incredible event. It has outgrown the Plaza Machado and especially this year spillover could be seen in Olas Altas and beyond. An important recommendation for next year is to raise the stages higher. With so many people it is nearly impossible for anyone beyond the second row of standing spectators to see what’s going on on stage.

Every restaurant in the Plaza and along the parade route seemed to be sold out. Our group stayed to cenar/eat a late dinner, and when we left about 1:30 am the Plaza was still full of energy. I so enjoy watching how vociferously death sings in the late evening on the Plazuela after the callejoneada.

Day of the Dead remains one of the highlights of Mazatlán’s local cultural scene. It is a jewel in Mexico’s holiday offerings; not the traditional celebrations of Oaxaca or Janitzio, but full of spirit and reflecting our local culture. It is my true hope that some of the missteps this year are due to the fact that the new administration just took over the day before and thus had little time to prepare.

Kudos to the maestros and artists who contributed! Mazatlán is incredibly blessed with your talents and generosity! Day of the Dead in Mazatlán, as Carnavál, is truly a festival of the people!



Day of the Dead 2016

p1300623Día de los Muertos in Mazatlán is an incredible holiday; one of our favorites. We love creating an altar every year and welcoming our dearly departed back home for a week or so. We enjoy touring the altars around town, and visiting the cemetery to watch families party with their deceased.

Last year I evidently started a new tradition. A couple of girlfriends and I took a makeup class with Johnny Millán and China Sanchez Duarte from the Municipal School of the Arts (post includes full instructions). The following week on the first of November, my friends came over to my house and we painted one another like catrinas, then headed to the parade. Afterwards, we ate dinner and toured the Teatro’s incredible event.

This year, as with most great things in Mazatlán, more girlfriends came over. My niece is in town as is a Japanese friend’s daughter, so they joined in as well. This morning my house looks like a set from The Hangover. Seriously. Champagne and wine glasses, food and bottles everywhere, feathers covering the floor… Click on any photo to enlarge, or to view a slideshow.

We had a whole lot of fun making each other up, trying not to repeat anything from last year. One cool thing was when we stopped by Curiel to have our group photo taken, they had a large framed photo of the three of us from last year posted proudly outside the shop, beckoning for people to come in. We’re models!


After this year’s photoshoot, we headed over to the Plazuela, where the festivities were just getting started. My, were we popular! I believe every one of us felt like a movie star. Many of  you dress up, I know, so you know how it feels. It’s still new to us. Locals and tourists alike asked us to take photos with them, it was so much fun. Penny was especially popular. The guy in the photo below asked her for a kiss. 😉 I love how the architecture of Centro Histórico makes callejoneada photos so special.

We had a very nice dinner, probably with many of you sitting nearby. The Plazuela gets so crowded with the thousands of revelers who participate and spectate. It’s a great chance to see loads of friends and visit. Towards the end of the evening we headed over to the theater to tour the “haunted house” they have inside there. It is always such a delight, as the young people from the Municipal School of the Arts recite calaveritas, celebrate the lives of those who have died this year, dance, sing, play music, and act. The wood block prints were also on exhibition, and below you can see photos of a few of those cool works of art. The pan de puerto that was handed out as we exited is particularly delicious.

I hope you all enjoyed last night as much as I did. Thanks to my girlfriends for the good time, to Greg for patiently putting up with us all afternoon and for helping me (or leading the) clean up today!


Día de los Muertos en Mazatlán/Day of the Dead in Mazatlán

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!

Day of the Dead in Mazatlán is a happy, festive celebration that takes place November 1 and 2 — All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days in the Christian (particularly Roman Catholic) religious calendar.

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!

Perhaps you’d like to see a short video clip of the Day of the Dead parade?



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.



391770_372728722804454_1129221583_nThe 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!