In response to all the positive feedback on my Day of the Dead article, here are a few related activities you might pursue in the Guadalajara – Lake Chapala area during late October – early November. It is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating of Mexico´s many holidays and traditions.
Altares – Ofrendas
For authenticity, Guadalajara’s Museo Regional usually puts up an interesting display of several types of Day of the Dead altars typical in different regions of Jalisco. The museum is located in a former convent a few steps away from the city’s Cathedral. Similar displays are usually set up in Tlaquepaque and Zapopan.
There are also bound to be some thematic altars set up in a variety of other public venues in the city and in Chapala and Ajijic. Last year Ajijic’s Casa de la Cultura offered space to a dozen local artists who came up with some stunning, if not always traditional, interpretations. In addition, there was a delightful altar honoring the village’s angelitos (dead children) set up in the kiosk on the village square.
If you’ve never seen a Mexican cemetery, Day of the Dead in the time to go. You’ll be astonished with how colorful and festive they are done up for this holiday — and how personalized and non-symmetrical they seem compared to North American standards. If you want to attend a graveyard mass on November 1 or 2, just ask around among the folks cleaning up family plots or the vendors selling flowers and snacks around the entrance. Ajijic also has some special rituals related to el Santo Entierro (Our Lord of the Holy Burial), a rather grim figure of the dead Christ, laid out in a glass casket that is carried around to all neighborhoods in the village in the days preceding the Dia de Muertos, then is transported for an all-night vigil (Nov. 1) at the cemetery.
You can pick up all kinds of amazing Day of the Dead accoutrements in Guadalajara’ s Parque Morelos during the last week of October. Treasures include fancifully decorated skulls, coffins and other sweets made of sugar, chocolate or amaranth seeds; toys, such as miniature wooden or paper coffins with skeletons inside (pull the string and he sits up); and my favorite, papel picado–delicate tissue paper cutouts with humorous depictions of skeletons engaged in a varied of activities–both the workmanship and the themes are truly amazing.
Hope this satisfies your curiosity for the moment. Really the only way to get a more clear notion is to be here and experience Day of the Dead on your own.
(A free-lance writer and Spanish-English translator, Dale Hoyt Palfrey has made her home in Ajijic, Mexico, since 1973. Her Mexico-Connection, however, goes back to the early 1950s when her grandparents were among the first wave of foreign retirees in the Lake Chapala area. She has observed that newcomers who adapt successfully to living in Mexico tend to take an active interest in understanding the country’s people, language and culture.)