The Day of the Dead | Mexico | Living in Mexico

The Day of the Dead

The morning of the Day of the Dead, the road leading past the main cemetery is closed to traffic and vendors' stalls have sprung up along its length. Most sell flowers, to be used to decorate gravesites.

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The demand is huge. Porters stream into the impromptu mercado, hauling great bundles of flowers.

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Some stalls sell food. The saying is, "In Mexico, no one dies of hunger."

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(The woman on the far left is saying either "Garçon!" or "Don't you dare take my picture!")

Other Day of the Dead essentials are on sale. These ladies are selling one-gallon jalapeño cans, to be used as vases. Five pesos. It's hard to imagine that even the entire population of San Miguel could eat that many hot peppers in a year.

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The city laid on extra services to handle the celebration. Mounted policemen...

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... garbage trucks to carry away trash and weeds...

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...and a line of tankers carrying water for all those flowers.

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In the mid-morning, the lines of people coming in and out of the cemetery are already thick. By mid-afternoon, it will take an hour or more to make it through the gate.

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Everyone cleans and decorates graves. Some get into serious gardening. When my friend Erika saw this photo, she asked, "¿Excavan los huesos?" (Are they digging up the bones?)

Yeah. Right, Erika. They give 'em a good scrubbing every year.

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The water trucks delivered water through a pump and a hose to this cistern (below, left). The stream from the faucet was splattering bystanders, so with typical Mexican make-do ingenuity, someone fashioned a deflector out of the commonest object available—a plastic Coke bottle (below, right).

(Coke bottles get used for everything: paint cans, pots for plant starts, protectors for exposed rebar ends, and urinals, to name a few.)

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Young boys with plastic buckets dipped water out of the cistern and delivered it to those who needed it. They were learning young how to make a few pesos on Day of the Dead. The water ended up in those jalapeño cans, keeping the flowers fresh.

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Some families held graveside memorial services.

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Here, a departed loved one is treated to a favorite song.


Up north, we usually visit graves singly or in small groups. We're solemn, maybe a little sad. We don't do it very often, and we've all seen how neglected some cemeteries look. Up north the dead are soon forgotten. They're gone forever.

In Mexico, departed loved ones are never completely gone. They return every year to visit with with their families.

I saw no tears. I heard prayers and laughter and singing. I saw tamales and tequila being consumed. I sensed the presence of those who had died, sitting with their families, benign, happy, content on a lovely day for a picnic.

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A Mexican graveyard is a place for happiness, a place of beauty.

—§—

On the following day, it's back to work. The crowds, the stalls, the singing have all gone away. The street outside the cemetery is empty except for a lone flower vendor, hoping to sell his leftover roses to a late visitor.

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He's not trying very hard. he knows the main show is over, and nobody is in a buying mood. But in Mexico, you don't throw stuff away. Not knowing what else to do, he's gonna try selling them.

A city worker sweeps up yesterday's trash with her home made twig broom.

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Dogs patrol between graves, looking for spilled food. Today, there's no one to chase them away.

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The cemetery road is much quieter than normal. Everybody is partied out. In a few days, the traffic will pick up again.

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But today, we've all had enough of the dead. Time to get back to living.

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