Tag Archives: traditions

Preparing for Day of the Dead, Dia de los Muertos

Day of the Dead is coming soon. Festivities in Oaxaca will begin in the next few days, and people are now gathering what they need for home altars to honor their deceased loved ones:

  • palm branches to create an arch over the altar through which loved ones pass from the otherworld — a gateway to now
  • smokey copal incense that provides the aroma to guide the way
  • candles that burn continuously to offer light along the journey
  • fresh flowers, especially marigolds, a seasonal offering with a pungent aroma to guide the spirits
Dia de los Muertos Altar, San Pablo Villa de Mitla

Dia de los Muertos Altar, San Pablo Villa de Mitla

  • bread, chocolate, fruit and nuts for the spirit visitors to eat
  • favorite beverages of those who have passed on and will return: hot chocolate, beer, mezcal, whiskey, coca-cola, Fanta orange, atole
  • framed photographs of those who have died (it wasn’t until the 70’s or 80’s, I’m told, that most locals had cameras to capture images)

 See Day of the Dead 5-Day Photo Challenge at Facebook

 

Oaxaca street parades will start on October 30.

On October 31, the Xoxocotlan panteon (cemetery) will host locals and tourists who come from around the world to experience the reverie and revelry of Muertos. I like to start at the old cemetery around mid-afternoon to be present at the magic hour of sunset.

Pan de Muertos, Bread of the Dead

Pan de Muertos, Bread of the Dead

On November 1, there are many cemetery festivities, at San Pablo Villa de Mitla in the morning and in the evening at the Oaxaca city Panteon, and in San Augustin Etla.

On November 2, in Teotitlan del Valle, the low-key ceremonies of honoring the dead begin with a mid-afternoon meal at home to ensure the dead return to their graves with full bellies. The villagers then accompany the spirits to the the cemetery (around 6 p.m. ) and sit with them through the night to be certain they are cared for and rest in peace.

Teotitlan del Valle, Dia de los Muertos

Teotitlan del Valle, Dia de los Muertos

On November 3, in San Antonino Castillo de Velasco, the flower growing village, holds their Day of the Dead celebrations after they have cut and sold cockscomb, marigolds, lilies and more to surrounding villages and city dwellers.

You might also want to add Santa Maria Atzompa to your itinerary.

Sand paintings, part of the tradition,  Muertos

Sand paintings, part of the tradition, Muertos

These are not created as tourist attractions but exist as part of ancient pre-Hispanic ritual in many parts of Mexico. Oaxaca has one of the most vibrant Day of the Dead celebrations.

Locals and seasoned Oaxaca travelers continue the search for the undiscovered Day of the Dead celebration where few tourists descend. The farther from the city, the more likely this is to occur.

Still life with marigolds, Teotitlan del Valle market

Still life with marigolds, Teotitlan del Valle market

I’m in North Carolina with my friend Hettie, and have with me photos of my parents and copal incense. I’ll start making my memory altar in the next few days. Meanwhile, my Teotitlan del Valle family will light incense and place marigolds at the gate to my home to welcome the spirits and guide them back under the shadow of Picacho.

 See Day of the Dead 5-Day Photo Challenge at Facebook

Muertos altar, November 2, 2015, remembering my dad

Muertos altar, November 2, 2015, remembering my dad

After I built my altar last year, our 99-1/2 year-old mom took a downward turn and I left Oaxaca for California. She died on November 15, 2016. I return to California next week to join my family to lay the headstone on her grave just before the anniversary of her death, a ritual that is part of my religious tradition.

This year, my altar will hold them both. I will sit and honor their lives.

Dorothy Schafitz Beerstein, April 16, 2013

Dorothy Schafitz Beerstein, April 16, 2013

 

 

 

Semana Santa–Easter Holy Week in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

As I write, someone is in the bell tower pulling the rope that rings the campana — a clarion call to gathering. Today is El Lunes Santo in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca.  You still have time to catch a taxi or colectivo from Oaxaca to arrive for the 9 a.m. mass in the Preciosa Sangre de Cristo church. Afterward, the procession will begin from the church courtyard and wind through the village, an all day event. Just listen for the music to find it!

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Teotitlan del Valle is divided into five different administrative units that are part of the Municipio, the volunteer usos y costumbres municipal governing body. Each of the five sections will host resting places along the route that symbolizes the Via Dolorosa and the Stations of the Cross.

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On Good Friday, there will be two separate processions — one carrying the Christ and the other the figure of Mary. They will come together in the village municipal courtyard in front of the rug market where a mass will be celebrated before they are returned to the church.

Here are some links to posts, photos and videos about Semana Santa in Teotitlan del Valle:

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Easter Sunday is a quiet day here, celebrated in the home with an elaborate meal and gathering of extended family.

 

Annual Basket Fair in San Juan Guelavia, Oaxaca: River Reed Weaving

The Feria del Carrizo is happening this week in the Zapotec village of San Juan Guelavia. The last day is February 7. This annual fair is growing and this year there were hundreds of people on opening day, Sunday, January 31.

I have made this an annual tradition and this was my fourth year here. I love arriving just before 10 a.m. when the weavers are setting up shop and the cooking fires are roaring. This couple, above, still makes the reed fish traps. They make great lampshades or dried flower holders!

 

Just in time for a breakfast of traditional hot chocolate made with water (or milk, if you prefer). It’s a great accompaniment to hot off the griddle fresh made corn tortillas stuffed with yellow mole and chicken (above right) or squash blossoms , quesillo (string cheese) and mushrooms (above left). This was prepared by the volunteers from the Museo Comunitario, the community museum. Super Yummy!

 

The Community Museum is small, just two rooms and admission is by donation. Usos y Costumbres villages maintain museums to keep cultural history. San Juan was closely tied to neighboring Dainzu (now an archeological site) and Macuilxochitl (across the highway) was once the regional center.

Ancient map reproductions show this as well as a diorama of how salt was extracted from the earth by local women using clay vessels from nearby San Marcos Tlapazola. Villagers were active in the Mexican Revolution that hit the region hard because was dotted with haciendas that indentured indigenous labor, eradicated with the Revolution.

 

Of course, the food goes on all day and if you wait long enough and stay for lunch you can enjoy barbecue goat tacos along with a shot of Tobala mezcal (or Madrecuixe, as your taste dictates) straight from the palenque. Buy a bottle for 200 pesos, about 2/3 less than comparable quality in Oaxaca city!

 

The weavers in San Juan Guelavia work in river reed called carrizo. Their baskets were used by farmers, traders and cooks for centuries, long before the Spanish conquest in 1521.

Anthropologists have written and talked about the risks to this artisan craft of the Oaxaca valley. So much of the reed weaving is now replaced by plastic baskets because people everywhere love the bright colors.

But, preferred among the local ladies is the traditional market shopping basket –that round Carrizo basket with curved palm covered handle that fits comfortably in the crook of the elbow.

I use the low-sided baskets as “shipping containers” inside my luggage. I’ve put mezcal bottles and ceramics inside, wrapped in bubble, surrounded by soft clothes packed snugly and nothing ever arrives broken. Use a flat round tray to cover your stuff and secure with duct tape. Very easy!

 

Above left, the ladies prepare atole, a traditional corn drink. Mix it with chocolate for a special taste. Always served at festivals, it’s the drink of the Zapotec and Aztec gods. Above right, a grandmother ties the sash on her granddaughter’s skirt in preparation for the parade.

Above: This year, there were lots of necklaces strung with reed and bright beads. Some dangled with mini- baskets mini-atole cups (all handmade).

 

And, above right, toy trucks and airplanes and whistles for the children, bird cages and shelves for home decor.

 

How to Get There From Oaxaca City: Take a taxi or collectivo or bus that goes to Tlacolula. Get off at the San Juan Guelavia crucero (crossroads). From there, take a moto-taxi (we call them tuk-tuks into town.) The village is situated about a mile inland on the west side of the Carretera Nacional MX190 better known as the Pan-American Highway.

Happy Holidays From Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca: Procession on the Calle

It’s festival season in Teotitlan del Valle. It was a full moon, a large globe of yellow light illuminating the path and all who walked it. On Christmas Eve baby Jesus is carried on a pillow through the winding cobblestone streets by the patron of the *last posada. He is followed by a litter holding statues of Mary and Joseph shouldered by four young women.

A moment's rest. Christmas Eve Procession, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, 2015

A moment’s rest. Christmas Eve Procession, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, 2015

The procession is flanked on one side by men, the other side women, each carrying lit decorated beeswax candles adorned with handmade wax flowers. Firecrackers boom out in front. A man swings a copal incense burner. The aroma is sweet, intense. Children and adults tweet whistles. The drummer keeps the pulse of the crowd throbbing.

 

We pick up people along the way to join in. Some stand at street corners or in doorways. Even the smallest of children participate. Early acculturation to custom and tradition.

 

The timing is precise. The procession must arrive at the church exactly at 10 p.m. for the evening mass to return the figures to their rightful resting places for another year, when the cycle will be repeated again with different actors.

Waiting to kiss and bless Baby Jesus before the church procession.

Waiting to kiss and bless Baby Jesus before the church procession.

My son, sister and brother-in-law are here and I’ve had the joy of being a tourist in my own town for the last few days. This night, we got to the house of the patron a little after 7 p.m. to learn that the procession that would leave the house to get to the church wouldn’t begin until 8 p.m.

La Dueña holds the infant as guests line up to bless him and await the procession.

Being the wonderful, hospitable people that Teotitecos are, we got invited in to see the creche and the blessing ceremony before the group gathered to walk the streets of the village.

Outdoor comal or cooking area for food preparation

Outdoor kitchen for food preparation, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

My sister, a flautist, struck up a conversation with the band leader who invited her to join them at a special morning band ceremony on December 31 that will welcome in the new year. Start time? 4 a.m.!  I’m not sure Barbara is going to make it.

Along the procession path, a pop-up restaurant

Along the procession path, a pop-up restaurant

Tradition in this village is to have a family meal at midnight after the mass ends to welcome the birth of Dios Niño. This is a feast of tamales, wine, mezcal, salad, chicken, stuffed pork, turkey or whatever other favorite entree the family likes. There may be beans, rice, fresh vegetables from the fields, ponché (like a sweet fruit cider), fresh fruit and an extravagant dessert.

It is an honor to be in the procession lighting the way.

It is an honor to be in the procession lighting the way.

There is no big festival meal served during Christmas Day here like in the USA. Families relax, stroll, play games. So, I asked Josefina if she would prepare a carry out. Roasted chicken spiced with salsa roja, mixed with carrots, green beans, squash and potatoes, served with organic rice and beans.  Surprise, Lupita shows up with a gift of handcrafted chile rellenos stuffed with chicken.

Blessings before the altar at the home of the Patron.

Blessings before the altar at the home of the Patron.

We finished on the rooftop terrace with wine and a three-hundred-and-sixty-degree view of the Tlacolula Valley. The red sun vanished in the west.

Almost midnight Christmas Eve dinner, Barbara, Ixcel Guadalupe, Ernestina

Almost midnight Christmas Eve dinner, Barbara, Ixcel Guadalupe, Ernestina

*The Last Posada: La Ultima Posadais actually on December 23, when Mary and Joseph move to the Casa de la Patron for the final evening before the birth of Jesus.  The baby appears at this house on December 24, is cradled by the woman of the household, then is held by the patron under a canopy as the procession leaves the house and moves through the village to the church. This December 24 event is called La Procession.

Wishing you season's greeting with health and joy always.

Wishing you the season’s best with health and joy always.

Technical issues: My USB internet connection is REALLY slow these last days. It takes about 30 minutes to upload one photo! So this is a delayed post. Lots of intervening activities since I wrote this: The radish festival, a trip to Hierve El Agua, and a mezcal exploration to the remote mountain village of San Juan Del Rio. More to come.

 

 

 

Another Year in Santa Cruz Xoxocotlan, Oaxaca, Day of the Dead

It’s my habit, practice, custom, wish to leave Oaxaca city at 3:00 p.m. to arrive at the old cemetery (panteon) in Santa Cruz Xoxocotlan by 4:00 p.m. to celebrate Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos. I go there first and spend at least an hour and half in this sacred space. It’s just before the magic hour, before the light begins to fade at dusk. Getting there early has another advantage — a parking place close to the center of town.

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The old cemetery is magical. It houses the remains of an old adobe church with crumbling walls that are held up by wood scaffolding. The fading stucco lintel can still be read, dated 1648 and adorned with cherubs and saints. It is roofless.

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Yellow plastic do not cross–danger zone tape is a warning against entry. There is more of it this year. There are tombs inside. Last year a family invited us in to join them at an ancestor’s grave covered with flowers. This year, there was no one and I didn’t see any flowers. Perhaps it is now too dangerous to enter. I don’t know if there is a restoration plan.

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Some of the grave stones are so weathered they are hard to read. Other tombs are marked by simple crosses and mounds of earth. You can tell who still has relatives in town who will pay attention to the dead. Some graves are empty of adornment. Others may have a token marigold plant so the souls know where to return.

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We step carefully. Grave sites are adjoining and there is no clear path. If you aren’t careful, you can trip and fall. I stand against the concrete wall that holds this space to take it all in, look at the clear Oaxaca sky, think about life and death, and see an ancient Zapotec tradition unfold that pre-dates the Spanish conquest. I never tire of this. There are ancient bones here.

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Just as in Teotitlan del Valle and San Pablo Villa de Mitla, locals welcome tourists because tourism is essential for Oaxaca’s economy. Those in larger villages accustomed to visitors for Muertos usually don’t mind having their photos taken but I’m always careful to ask. In the smaller villages, it’s still awkward since tourism is a relatively new phenomenon.

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This year, however, what captivated me most was the changing, deteriorating structure of the old adobe, the arrival of the old and young together to tend to tradition, and the profusion of flowers.

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As I rounded a corner I found a four-legged friend who was barking, guarding her own treasure hidden beneath the marble roof of an old monument that was now serving another purpose — shelter for new-born pups.

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There is a profusion of homeless street dogs in Oaxaca. Most are never neutered and families usually don’t want females because they become pregnant. Duh! In some of the pueblos there is a growing movement toward education about animal protection/sterilization. But it is slow to take hold.

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At every cemetery throughout Oaxaca, families bring in bundles of marigolds and purple cockscomb, vases, candles, oranges and bananas, brooms to sweep up the dried flowers from last year. Often they use wheelbarrows provided by the cemetery committee in each village. There is always a water cistern close by.

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Don’t worry. You can buy candles, flowers and fruit right out on the street on your way to the cemetery. There are plenty of places to snack, grab a beer, and entertain yourself with amusements for children and adults, see the sand sculpture and an art exhibition. Wood-carvers from San Antonio Arrazola have a great annual display of alebrijes, too.

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As we made our way through town to the new cemetery, we began to feel a different vibe. It was beginning look more like Halloween and an all-night party. It was only 7:00 p.m. The night was young and the young ones were getting ready.

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Xoxo (Ho-Ho), as the town is called for short, has many wonderful murals on the Day of the Dead theme that are spray painted by street artists. This is a close-up of one below.

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At the main cemetery, mezcal is offered freely to visitors by those gathered graveside. This burial ground is a wide open space with strolling mariachis and lots of flash photography.

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We didn’t linger there long — long enough to get the taste of the wild and wonderful celebration to come later, and long enough to sip a mezcal with a family in tribute to their ancestors. Remember, the dead are only dead if no one remembers them and celebrates their lives.

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Perhaps this will be my last Dia de los Muertos post this year. We shall see. I hope you have enjoyed the series, and may your departed loved ones continue to rest easy.

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Tips to Participate:  Bring several bundles of marigold flowers and offer some to local people to add to the tombs. You can also bring bananas, oranges and nuts. This is a very thoughtful gesture that demonstrates your desire to share in the ritual. Smile. Sit a while. Even if you don’t speak Spanish and smile and nod of acknowledgement goes a long way to friend-building.