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Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) in Chapala

Dale Hoyt Palfrey

Mexico's most intriguing holiday, is linked to a rich variety of popular customs that offer resident expatriates an excellent opportunity to soak in the culture of their adopted home. Here are some suggestions and tips for embracing and enjoying this distinctive celebration.

Take a tour of ofrenda displays: Public exhibitions of Day of the Dead altars have become more widespread in recent years as public and private institutions have made a concerted effort to conserve an age-old Mexican custom. To see one of the finest examples of the artistry and symbolism that distinguishes the ofrenda tradition, it's well worth making a trip to Guadalajara to visit the Museo Regional, Calle Liceo at Avenida Hidalgo, next to the Cathedral.

Highlighting options in the Chapala area is the annual collective exhibition sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce, slated for November 1 and 2 along the median strip of Avenida Madero outside City Hall and the San Francisco Church. Plan your visit for around 7 p.m. to catch a colorful dance program reflecting the prehispanic roots of Dia de los Muertos festivities.

English-speaking students at Oak Hill School, located next door to Lakeside Little Theatre in San Antonio Tlayacapan, will interpret the components and symbolism of three different ofrendas for viewers visiting the campus Friday, November 1, Noon to 1 p.m. Look for more altars traditionally displayed on the Chapala and Ajijic plazas; at Ajijic's Casa de la Cultura; and on November 2, 6 to 10 p.m., along Chapala's Calle 5 de Mayo between Lopez Cotilla and Flavio Romero de Velasco.

Create your own ofrenda: Pay tribute to a lost soul--be it a beloved family member, a treasured friend or co-worker, or an admired public figure--by setting up your own memorial altar. Start with a photograph or image representing the honored spirit and surround it with an eye-pleasing arrangement of candles, flowers and objects symbolizing the person's lifestyle.

Pay a visit to the camposanto: Activity at all local cemeteries begins picking up over the final days of October as families join forces to spruce up the burial plots of their loved ones. Vendors start turning up at the gates of the panteón by October 31 to hawk flowers, wreaths, snacks and liquid refreshments. Among the various religious services held at each cemetery, the main event is a celebration of the Mass, usually at around 5 p.m. on November 2.

While respectful "outsiders" are not unwelcome, you may feel more comfortable if you turn your graveyard visit into a personal mission. Take a wreath, floral arrangement, or handful of marigolds to lay on the tomb of a departed friend, a neighbor or one of the scores of "forgotten" foreign residents who have been laid to rest over the years in the Ajijic and Chapala cemeteries.

Host a Dia de Muertos feast: As an alternative to setting up an altar, remember someone special to you by preparing a Day of the Dead feast in his or her honor. Or invite close friends for a remembrance dinner to conjure up the spirits of lost loved ones, each to be represented by a photograph or special object brought by guests. Prepare a menu featuring Mexican cuisine or favorite foods of those honored. Dine around a table centerpiece featuring marigolds, candles and other Dia de Muertos decorative items. Share stories and happy memories of those who have passed on, remembering that it is an occasion for celebration, not mourning.

This article appears courtesy of the Chapala Review, a monthly Newspaper published in Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico. The focus is the Lake Chapala area. The goal is to provide quality information about the area, its stories, events, history, culture and people.

Published or Updated on: January 7, 2007 by Dale Hoyt Palfrey © 2008
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