Noche de los Muertos Day of the dead celebration in Tzintzuntzan
As October comes to a close, the little pueblo of Tzintzuntzan begins it’s preparations for one of its biggest festivals – Noche de los Muertos. Everyone in town is busy, flowers are fixed to the archway leading to the cemetery, large orange marigolds and red cockscomb appear in every corner of the village. Some people are busy with the street fair, but most of the townsfolk are in the cemetery, building fantastic ofrendas (memorials) to their dearly departed loved ones.
Noche de los Muertos (night of the dead, AKA day of the dead) has been celebrated in these lands for centuries, traditions laid down long before the arrival of the conquistadores. It was a major celebration for the Purhepecha, the indigenous people of the region, and used to be celebrated in the month of August. The celebrations lasted the entire month.
The catholic church attempted to incorporate this tradition, moving the date to November 1 to coincide with all saints day. Where the church succeeded in melding other indigenous celebrations into their liturgy, Noche de los Muertos lived on, in the hearts and minds of the people, as the one tradition they could not subvert.
People prepare for days, acquiring the flowers and designing their ofrendas. It is an outpouring of love by the living for the dead. Most people believe in the holiday, and that they do commune with their departed relatives on those days.
The magic begins at sundown on the night of October 31. As people finish their ofrendas, and begin to light the candles, an eerie glow begins to descend on the cemetery as the candlelight overcomes the darkness. Families gather at the gravesides, cooking meals on open fires, and bundling up against the cold. The first night is the parade of the little angels. It is said that on this night, the children and the unmarried are the first to return, starting at midnight, November 1. The second night is when the adults return.
The ofrendas are amazing, with pictures of the loved ones, and plates of their favorite foods, and their favorite beverages, sometimes even cigarettes and candy are left for those who return. One year there was a larger than life representation of the Virgin of Guadalupe, made of flowers on a wood frame. Most people will spend the night at graveside. It is both eerie and amazing.
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