Letters to the Editor
Where but in Mexico can one experience such color, beauty and joy when celebrating Death. Forget doom and gloom, the color black and mournful wailing.
Intrigued by the prolific use of marigolds for the celebration of Dia de los Muertos, I decided to do a bit of research. I found out that “the flower is steeped in pre-Columbian religion” and now signifies “a blend of Aztec and Catholic feast days.” It is “the flower of choice because the scent is considered easily recognized by the spirit world. It is said to lure the dead, who will follow paths of petals from grave to house to back again,” and who are enticed by “the pungent scent and day-glo colors, to feed on favorite foods.” “Its orange and yellow hues, symbolizing sun rays are laid to light paths, cover crosses and decorate ofrendas or home alters.”
Strolling along the Calle Parroquia on the south side of the Ajijic plaza, now closed to traffic, I marveled at the huge tapetes, carpets decorated with brilliantly dyed saw-dust, sprinkled in elaborate patterns, reminiscent of Indian sand paintings. Often using marigold petals to augment the colored saw-dust, there were abstract designs, ones of fish, katrinas and intricately ornamented skulls. They stretched across the cobbles, these lovely pieces of art, here today and gone tomorrow, as ephemeral and short-lived as are our lives.
We joined the rows of Mexican and non-Mexicans seated in front of the main church and, while waiting for the late-to-start entertainment, watched the made-up and superbly costumed Katrina brides and their grooms strolling by. The atmosphere was joyful. Seated beside us was Jose, in full make-up, who spoke excellent English. He told us he’d studied for a year at LCS and then on his own and that he had a large family spread all over the world. On our right were two Mexican women who had specifically come from Guadalajara to experience The Day of the Dead festivities for the first time. One, recently back from having lived for years in the United States, let my husband struggle with his elementary Spanish, before she put him at ease with her perfect English.
On a temporary raised platform, the two bilingual emcees introduced the performers and between numbers gave us some history of the Dia de los Muertos, making a point, in case you hadn’t already got it, that this was not a day of sorrowing. Young, local folklorico dancers were followed by a children’s choir, a quartet of A Capella singers from CREM Ajijic Music School and finally, the outstanding Ballet Folklorico from San Juan Cosala. One dance after another featured beautiful costumes and props, interesting choreography and superb ensemble performance.
Then came the moment we were all waiting for: the lighting of the candles beneath the hundreds of clay skulls on the east wall of the school. Local artist, Efren Gonzales and his team of helpers had been working tirelessly up to the last minute, to complete the wall on which every inch is covered with plaques, each with an identical skull, and each bearing the name of someone’s beloved deceased. Below each plaque was a small receptacle with a candle. Efren invited the audience to go to the wall to light a few candles. We took time to read some of the names. Ladders had been left ready and soon the young and agile were clammering to light the uppermost candles, or relight them if the wind blew them out. Then there was a hush as the streetlights were switched off and we watched in awe, the wall of skulls, lit by hundreds and hundreds of flickering candles. Maestro Gonzales, looking weary, sat in front of his creation, like a sort of god, who had accomplished what he’d set out to do and was pleased with the final result.
The indefatigable San Juan Cosala dancers, ended the evening with more exuberant pieces, and probably would have danced all night, if the audience, many of whom had to go to work the next day, hadn’t begun to drift off, with sleeping youngsters draped over their shoulders.
I was reminded for the umpteenth time that I am privileged to live in this amazing village.