You see them everywhere – calacas (skulls) staring back at you from restaurant walls, shop windows, or family altars; or huesos (skeletons) happily hanging out on a sunny autumn afternoon – during Los Dias de Los Muertos (the Days of the Dead) here in Mexico. And, despite its morbid-sounding (to gringos’ ears) name, this is a time for celebration.
Not just one, singular, Halloween-like day, this celebration lasts for days and days. It’s a time to invite loved ones who’ve passed on to come back, spiritually speaking, and be re-embraced by family and friends. It’s a time of joyous events filled with music, dancing, bright colors, art, sweets, singing; and the entire family and community participates.
Last Tuesday I attended a charming performance at the Angela Peralta theater here in San Miguel de Allende in which calacas, huesos, and títeres (puppets) stole the show. Mexican families, including lots of children, filled the theater with appreciative laughter and applause, especially when a life-size skeleton puppet sang and danced (even imitating Michael Jackson’s moon walk at one point) and hungrily gobbled up the food left out for him on a large red tablecloth by some children in the audience.
Halloween ghosts, goblins, and skeletons, as I recall, were meant to be spooky and scary. When I was a kid, we all screamed and ran from them in fright. These Mexican children were, instead, thoroughly entertained: laughing at the skeleton-puppet’s corny jokes, clapping to the beat of his old-time music. It was as if their collective Tio Emilio was up on stage again, clowning around, the way he always used to do, even though he’s been long dead. How sweet to grow up without a deathly fear of death and the afterlife, I thought.
The next day I attended the closing reception of the month-long Calaca Art & Quilt Show, held at Café Muro’s new location in Barrio del Obraje, where vibrant wall quilts made by the SMA Quilters, featuring calacas as their centerpieces, filled the upstairs dining room’s walls. All of the proceeds from the sale of these beautifully and lovingly made quilts were donated by SMA Quilters to support the creative and educational after-school programs of the nonprofit organization, Ojala Niños. (See WOW archives for my previous posts on Ojala.)
Around the Jardin (central plaza) on November 1 and 2 artful altars were constructed to honor prominent, and not-as-prominent, members of the San Miguel community who passed away during the last year. I found myself caught up in the throngs of people – locals and tourists alike – admiring the impressive altars and honoring the honorees.
By yesterday, November 3, the skulls, skeletons, and altars were all gone, without a trace, it seemed. Gone for now, that is – until next year’s calaca days — but never forgotten.
Oh, all but for this one hold-out whom I came across yesterday. Must be Tio Antonio, who never did know when to leave a good party: