"To the people of New York, Paris, or London, "death" is a word that is never pronounced because it burns the lips. The Mexican, however, frequents it, jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it; it is one of his favorite toys and most steadfast love. Of course, in his attitude perhaps there is as much fear as there is in one of the others; at least he does not hide it; he confronts it face to face with patience, disdain, or irony." -Octavio Paz, Mexican poet 1914-1998
"Dia de los Muertos" or "Day of the Dead", is a colourful celebration in many Latin American countries welcoming the souls of the dearly departed every year between October 31st and November 2nd. It's a blend of pre-Hispanic and Catholic traditions, incorporating indigenous culture and Christian beliefs in the afterlife. In Mexico it is a time for families to come together, share memories, laughs and good food and drink. Altars are built with offerings for the dead, with "Zempaxóchitl" flowers, candles, photos, tequila and other favourite items of the deceased. "Pan de muerto" ("bread of the dead") is shared with friends and hot chocolate is everywhere. Each region brings their own special flavours to the party, here in the Yucatan Peninsula the "mucbipollo" is prepared (like a large, delicious, scrumptious tamal) and the event is called "Hanal Pixan" in Maya.
While many of the ancient cities of Mexico lay claim to having the best "Day of the Dead" celebrations, here in Quintana Roo THE place to be is Xcaret Park for their annual "Festival de Vida y Muerte" or "Festival of Life and Death". Every year from October 31st to November 2nd, the park is transformed, candles and torches light up the paths, aromatic "copal" smoke permeates the breeze, stunning altars grace the grounds and music and dance performances create beautiful spectacle. Make-up booths are spread around the park, allowing guests to paint their faces like the traditional "calaveras" (painted skulls). A children's pavilion invites kids to participate in workshops, creating jewelry or playing traditional games. Food stands serve tamales, mucbipollo, tortas de cochinita, hot chocolate and churros (the festival is worth the trip for the food alone!).
Max and I attended the festival for the first time last year and had a grand time, we were excited to return to Xcaret this year. After seeing some gorgeous "calavera" faces during our first experience, I studied and practiced our make-up and I think we looked smashing (if I do say so myself). I got a lot of double-takes on the hour long drive and the cops at the check point had a good laugh at the painted skull driving down the highway. The event this year was completely sold out, sadly the park had to cancel two days of the event with Tropical Storm Rina playing a little havoc with our weather, so the place was packed when we arrived. Being "experienced" festival goers, we bought our souvenirs first and headed right to the kids' area to grab tickets for the popular workshops. Max made himself a lovely bracelet while I wandered taking photos and running into friends. We gorged ourselves on tamales and tortas, Max asked a GAZILLION questions and we wandered through the park checking out the altars and dancers and listening to music. A very pleasant evening, full of colour and laughs and learning (shhh, don't tell Max it was educational!!!) We'll be back next year (and again and again and again), it's certainly one of the finest events in the region and even worth a special trip during this important time of year. Xcaret is a class act and puts on a wonderful show, "Festival de Vida y Muerte" is an exceptional experience for the whole family.
For more photos, please check out this "Festival of Life and Death"set on the "Canuck in Cancun" Facebook page!
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Disclosure: I am being compensated for my work in creating and managing content as a Contribtor for the México Today Program.All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared here are completely my own