Día de Muertos

Several years after both of my parents had died, they both appeared in my dream one night. The dream was nothing special: we were milling about doing normal things in my final childhood home. No words of wisdom were spoken or cryptic message divulged. I woke up so happy as though both had visited me after so many years apart. That is Día de Muertos.

Final Christmas

Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) is actually celebrated on 2 days in Mexico – November 1 and 2 – and is when the path between life on earth and the afterlife is open. This allows the dearly departed to return to earth to visit their living family. The living entice their dead relatives to visit by setting up altars (ofrendas) in their homes dedicated to their beloved – their pictures, favorite foods, mementos, sugar or candy skulls (calaveras), pan de muerto (sweet bread with a cross of “bones” on the top), candles and flowers. Or you can try to entice the famous – we were told of ofrendas for JFK, Marilyn Monroe and James Dean, among others. Marigolds provide the dead a path back to the living and are everywhere in the days leading up to the holiday. November 1 is the day for departed children and November 2 is for adults. Families will celebrate in their homes or in the cemetery where their loved ones rest. Unlike Halloween in which the dead are feared, Día de Muertos is when the dead are welcomed. And who wouldn’t want to see their deceased loved ones, if only once a year? Matt and I did not make an altar this year as we didn’t fully understand the holiday, but next year we will be inviting our deceased loved ones to pay a visit.

Catrina on Our Door

A new tradition for Día de Muertos in Mexico City is a fantastic parade. Spawned by the James Bond movie, Spectre, which (apparently) begins with a (staged) Día de Muertos parade in Mexico City, the municipality now sponsors a parade. Matt and I headed into the city early on Saturday to check out the scene and get a good spot. We were rewarded by happening upon the staging area and getting a good look at the floats before the parade began.

After wandering around for 3 hours, we secured our spot an hour before the parade and were not disappointed. What an amazing spectacle! It began with a moment of silence and a moving tribute to the earthquake victims and rescuers.

The next part of the parade, “The Living Dead,” was a walk through history and began with Mexico’s pre-hispanic roots.

Next up were the Spanish Conquistadors and the Widows’ Altar.

The colonial period was represented with some great dancing and costumes.

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A devil chasing an angel provided some comic relief and some interesting, but inexplicable (to me and my Spanish teacher) costumes followed.

Revolutionaries put on a show and then the press got a nod.

The next part of the parade – Carnival of Skulls – continued the fun.

Carnival of Skulls

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A wonderful introduction to Día de Muertos and a great celebration.

1st Communion, Peruvian Style

“We’re going to the first communion this weekend,” Matt said when he came home from school one night.

“Okay, whose first communion?” I asked.  Having been to plenty of first communions in the States, including my own, I was interested to see one in Peru.

“I don’t know.  The fourth graders, I guess,” he replied.  “I have an invitation somewhere.”

“All of them?”  I was confused.  Davy is not a Catholic school and while I know Peru is 85-90% Catholic, I didn’t understand why first communion would be associated with the school as opposed to a parish.

“I don’t know, but I’m the principal so we need to go.”

Fair enough.  So last Saturday Matt and I put on church attire and headed to Iglesia Belén (Church of the Nativity) in the center of Cajamarca.  (Once at church I discovered that if I owned a micro mini skirt and stiletto heels those would have been equally appropriate attire for a first communion although I am not sure how I would have sat down…)  We arrived and knew we were in the right place by the host of little angels all around us.

Matt was in hot demand for photos.  Mainly with the girls – like in most countries, the boys stay farther away from the principal.  But Miss Mistina, a fourth grade teacher, was sought after for photos with boys and girls and, in one case, the family scurried down the street after mass to catch her.  We chatted with some parents who spoke excellent English and the mom explained that the children usually make their first communion with their school.  She added that 48 children were participating today and that 1 other student already made her first communion in Lima and the remaining 3 fourth graders “were not participating.”  It was clear she did not approve of the three non-participants. She also explained that the children dress alike to avoid the “miniature bride” factor and competition.  That seems like a great idea and probably an easier sell in a country where uniforms are the norm.

The same mom kindly led us into church and to our assigned seats – places of honor on the side, right up front by the children.  Not my usual back-of-church choice, but we were not alone as the teachers were similarly honored.  The priest even came down to greet all of us before mass, and I almost had a giggle fit when the priest said “Que Tal” to me, which is an informal “How’s it going” greeting.  I managed to stutter back “Buenos Dias” as he continued down the line of teachers.  Then I looked up at the dome and had to stifle my giggles again as the cherubs holding up the dome look like they are making “Nanny-Nanny-Boo-Boo”  faces.  Look and tell me if I am wrong:

Nanny-Nanny-Boo-Boo

Nanny-Nanny-Boo-Boo

While the service lasted two hours, it was very pleasant.  Our years of Catholic education certainly helped as Matt and I generally knew what was going on.  There was also a handy written program, so I could even say the responses (the shorter ones or I got lost) and sing in Spanish.  The Our Father, which should have been easy, was confusing, so I am not exactly sure what was going on for that.  All 48 children participated in some fashion by reading petitions, bringing up the gifts etc., which was nice.  I had considerable anxiety during communion when everyone was taking the wafer directly in the mouth, a practice long discontinued in the US.  So I intently watched the line and was relieved when I saw one woman extend her hands.  Then I saw she was noticeably pregnant.  Was there some special pregnancy rule? By the time we were headed up to the altar, I had seen two other women, neither who appeared to be pregnant, do the same, so I held out my hands and was awarded my host (and not whacked with a ruler by the nun dispensing communion).  Whew.  Poor Mistina, who is not Catholic, was being urged by the children to take communion.  She explained that she was not Catholic and received stunned, uncomprehending looks.  So on Monday she had to explain where her Christian beliefs and their Catholic beliefs intersect and diverge.  She said the kids are still a little shocked that she isn’t Catholic.

After church we wandered to the Belén museum and ended our outing with a baby mummy and a skeleton.  All in all, a lovely day!