Lakeside Día de Muertos: skulls, Katrina horses and 3 days of remembrance
The towns of lakeside each celebrate Mexico biggest holiday with local customs, including a Katrina Ride of costumed horses in Ajijic and a moving display of Katrinas on the Chapala Malecón
Photo: Patrick O’Heffernan
Patrick O’Heffernan Ajijic (JAL).- Dia de Muertos, the Day of the Dead and Mexico’s biggest holiday, is approaching. Day of the Dead is actually a three-day holiday which involves cemetery visits, fireworks, processions, private altars called ofrendas, calaveras, Aztec marigolds, the favorite foods and beverages of the departed, and fiestas. In some parts of Mexico, like Mexico City and Ixtlahuacán de los Membrillos, major gatherings of thousands of people take place with parades, contests, and music. The same is true NOB, especially in Los Angeles where over 40,000 people gather at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery for altars, music and food.
A single Day of the Dead was celebrated in summer by the Aztecs until the Spanish invaders imposed Catholic religion and holidays on them. The Church moved Day of the Dead to coincide with the Catholic Allhallowtide, a 3-day celebration of All Saints’ Eve (now Halloween), All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. However, despite the proximity to Halloween and the commercial pressures to institute a Mexican Halloween celebration, Day of the Dead has nothing to do with Halloween.
Photo: Patrick O’Heffernan.
Dia de Muertos was initially celebrated in central and southern Mexico, but the 2015 James Bond film, Spectre, featured an opening sequence of a Day of the Dead Parade in downtown Mexico City (there was no such parade). One year later, the government used the popularity of the film to promote the pre-Hispanic Mexican culture by organizing an actual «Día de Muertos» parade attended by 250,000 people and later declaring it a national holiday.
As anyone who has seen the Disney film Coco knows, Dia de Muertos (the los is an alternative form of the original Dia de Muertos) is a festive day in which people gather to remember friends and family members who have died, and help support their spiritual journey with gifts and prayers. In Mexican culture, death is viewed as a natural part of the human cycle, so it is not a day of sadness but a day of celebration with their deceased loved ones who return from the other side of life to celebrate invisibly with them.
Lakeside takes these celebrations very seriously. Ajijic’s celebration begins on the first day of November, the Day of the Little Angels, El Día de los Inocentes, which is reserved for families who have lost children. The night before, the children make an altar to invite the angelitos (spirits of dead children) to come back for a visit. Families often believe that the spirits of the departed children run ahead of the families to these altars to be there when the families arrive with gifts. By the afternoon of Nov. 2, when the Dia de Muertos celebration has begun in earnest, altaras in the main cemeteries in Ajijic and Chapala are extravagantly decorated and at night lit by hundreds of candles.
Celebrations in Ajijic are mostly at the altars in the cemetery and later in the main plaza with altars and colorful sawdust carpets. A activity unique to Ajijic is the Katrina Ride, a parade of horses and riders dressed as Katrina, the apparition immortalized by the artist Diego Rivera in a 1940’s satirical mural drawn from cartoons of José Guadalupe Posada. A possible inspiration for Katrina was Mictēcacihuātl, the Aztec goddess of death who ruled the underworld Mictlān. The ride will begin at 1 pm at on 16 Septembre in La Floresca and will proceed through Ajijic for an hour or more, looping through Seís Esquinas and returning to La Floresca. Timing will depend on the number of times the horses stop for photos and selfies. The Katrina Ride is not part of any official activities, but s planned communally and any woman or man with a costume and a decorated horse can join. Over a dozen horses and riders are expected this year in homemade costumes.
The official Ajijic “The Night of the Dead” parade will leave from Aldama and Constitución, move west to Seís Esquinas and end up at the Plaza. A highlight of the Ajijic celebration is the illumination of the hundreds of terracotta skulls across from the Parroquia San Andres Aposto, created in 2016 by the artist Efren Gonzalez to honor residents who have passed away. Each skull plaque is lit by a candle, turning Calle Marcus Castellanos into a blazing celebration of Dia de Muertos.
Photo: Patrick O’Heffernan.
Chapala’s Celebration of Dia de Muertos is spectacular with many altars, sawdust carpets and a nighttime parade that begins after 7:00 near the Malecón at the Church San Francisco. Earlier in the day, the riverbank receives a collection of life-sized Katrinas exhibited by the Jalisco state Secretary of Culture in the towns of the Chapala riverbank. The Chapala regional high school constructs elaborate altars as a 20-year old school tradition, displaying them in the center of town, which is filled with altars, Katrinas, artistic exhibitions and sculptures dedicated to the Dia de Muertos.
The Katrina Ride, the parade and the many Dia de Muertos parties throughout Lakeside have created a demand for costumes and especially makeup. The New Look Beauty Salon on Hidalgo in San Antonio Tlayacapan is one example of a local business thriving by preparing its clients for the celebrations by painting their faces with the perfect Katrina mask, Make-up expert Rous Ruíz reports that Katrina make-up has been popular for the past decade. Predicts that between this Saturday and Nov 2 they will paint at least 20 women a day. The shop is holding a costume and make-up contest for its staff, clients and anyone who wants to attend on Oct 31.
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