Many cultures in the world have a way to honor their dead but none is as festive as the Mexican celebration.
Article by: Antonio, Founder and Guide at Free Walking Tour Mexico
To Mexicans the death of a loved one is of course a sad occasion, but once a year on the 1st and 2nd on November the cities of Mexico are decorated with colors, lights, music and performances to welcome back the spirits that travel back to the world from the land of the dead to back with their families.
This holiday is celebrated in almost every city in Mexico but in the capital of the country, being the largest and most populated city there are many things to do and see.
The first recommended tip is to see the ofrendas (traditional altars) in the Zocalo of the city. Here there are many institutions such as universities, ministries, or public services whom are given a space in the plaza to pay their respect to their leaders that have passed away. They are all given roughly the same area to work in so that there is no clear advance for any of the participants, and even though this is not technically a competition and there are no prizes given every party involved tries as hard as possible to create the most beautiful ofrenda, using only flowers, paper and other traditional materials. They will place also food and other items that the honored person loved when he or she was alive and the ofrenda will have a subtle theme of the institution that person worked for so that you can understand who is building this altar.
Another excellent place in the city to see beautiful ofrendas is the Coyoacan historic district. Here the experience takes a more cultural approach, the decorations celebrate the life of the most important artists and national heroes of the city and country such as Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Octavio Paz and more. The district itself is one of the most beautiful and typical in the concrete jungle that is Mexico City giving it a poetic feeling.
A way to see the day of the dead as it was celebrated more than 500 years ago would be a trip in the Xochimilco canals. Take a trajinera (a wooden handmade roofed boat) with all your friends and enjoy the decorations of the chinampas (handmade family islands for living and cultivation) that every family decorates by themselves. While you eat and drink in your trajinera, musicians in other boats will be creating the perfect atmosphere and if you wish, the locals will approach you in their little canoes to sell tamales, fried fish, grilled grasshoppers, candies or many other treats such as it was done hundreds of years ago.
If you wish a more uncommon twist to your day, you can always visit a cemetery and, though it may sound spooky, it is everything but. Some people, instead of creating an ofrenda in their homes, decide to take it directly to the tomb of their loved one. On top of the grave, they will put flowers, candles, pictures and food. They will play the guitar, sing and talk to their dead as if they were still alive and well. Instead of sorrow and cries, you will find happiness and laughs and, though it may look bizarre at first, after a few minutes you will find yourself immersed in the atmosphere and joining the celebration.
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