The Day of the Dead–what is it all about?
In many places throughout Saltillo, altars dedicated to deceased family
members or famous people are on display. If interested in finding some, try the Secretary
of Culture building, on the corner of Juarez and Hidalgo, right across the street from the Casino de Saltillo. Or Casa Purcell. Or the art museum that´s on Juarez and General Cepeda, about 2 blocks behind the cathedral. Museums in general are just a great place to find Day of the Dead altars. In years past, many of the city high schools sent students to make altars at the Alameda during the last week of October. I haven´t seen that in a few years, though.
The Katrina Museum draws in a huge crowd this time of year, and for good reason. A visit there is a great way to get an understanding on the holiday.
However, a few years ago, to see how the holiday is really celebrated, I finally took a trip to a cemetery. Now, I felt a little odd, not having any family members buried in this particular cemetery. I didn´t want to be an obtrusive cultural observer, crashing a serious party. But, at the same time, I was dying of curiosity about how families did celebrate the holiday. My Mexican husband has more “gringo” attitudes than I do regarding the Day of the Dead (as in, it weirds him out), and my in-laws live to far away to join them. (Then again, I don´t think they celebrate the day much, anyway.)
So, off I went to the cemetery, to be a fly on the wall.
First of all, getting to any cemetary on the 1st or 2ed of November is easier said th
an done. Many bus routes forgo their normal routes and instead, list the cemeteries on their windshields where they´ll leave passengers. Fortunately, the Santiago Cemetery (just past the Universitary Hospital on Calz. Francisco I. Madero) is within walking distance for me. If one wants to drive–good luck. From what I have seen, parking is nearly impossible. And the traffic is horrible on these days past any cemetary, so when at all possible, rearrange normal routes to avoid driving past cemeteries on the way to work, the store, etc. Outside of every cemetery are numerous flower vendors, further blocking traffic.
Unless, one is looking to buy flowers. Then they´re a boon.
The cemetery was crowded. Through some aisles we inched along, rather processional-like. However, the mood was not terribly solemn. Families were simply there to clean up their family members´ graves, put some flowers on them, and to say a prayer for their dearly departed.
Despite my hesitation to intrude on strangers´ solemnities, it turned out to be an afternoon well spent. Even though I didn´t know anyone buried in the Santiago Cemetery, that afternoon provided me some precious time to reflect on people I´ve lost–healthy reflections that we tend to run away from in US culture.
In fact, this annual national remembrance for those who´ve passed away is no doubt hugely beneficial for most families, providing a regular time to remember those we´ve lost, reflect on our grief, and to heal. When I joined total strangers in the Santiago Cemetery, the experience turned out to be more than a cultural observation. The experience gave me a chance to participate in a healthy time of reflection. Having learned the value of such a holiday, it´s now a day that I´ll continue to set aside in my calendar from here on out.
Looking for Day of the Dead activities? The Katrina Museum is sponsoring a few ghost story tours throughout the city, and the museum will be open for most of the Halloween/Day of the Dead weekend. Check out the calendar for dates, times, and locations.
And if you´re out by the Katrina Museum, get hungry, and want to keep to the Halloween/Day of the Dead theme, stop in at Monster Café, on the corner of Allende and Mariano Escobedo. The owners are some of our most enthusiastic followers!