After all that preparation, dia de los muertos is finally here! We have seen every shrine in Oaxaca (or so it feels) and studied all about the day for weeks. This weekend everything really heated up, both literally and figuratively! It has been really scorching all weekend, making it hard to do anything but eat ice lollies. My personal favourites come from a shop called Popeye. I just adore their watermelon lolly and I may have been known to eat more than one in one sitting. Yummy!
On Sunday we spent the day doing pretty much nothing but early evening found us accidentally happening upon a number of events just as they began. It’s almost as if this whole show is just for us, right? First off, on our way to let our kids terrorise others in a toy electric car, we stumbled upon a school band performing in the middle of a lovely market. The band were truly terrible but we enjoyed the market and the festivities. On our walk home post terrorising, we found a rendition of something Shakespeare-y just beginning. I have no idea what it was, I couldn’t translate anything so we left, much to SB’s disgust who claimed to be fascinated by the unintelligible and barely audible production. However, after that we found the real street party – we bought hot dogs (sin nada for the children, obv) and burgers and settled in to watch the fun for a while (oh, and I may have told a corn seller off for upping his prices due to the influx of tourists, of which I am NOT one!). It seems that the pre-dia festivities are exactly what you might imagine if halloween were to be celebrated somewhere hot: kids dressed up and begging for cash/sweets, young adults getting smashed and old, fat foreigners looking entirely inappropriate by getting their faces painted in the traditional dia de los muertos style but combining it with white fat bodies!
Instead of asking for a penny for the guy, here kids sit on the road in pairs, one pretending to kill the other over and over, with a bucket for cash in front of them. Hmmmm. Not sure how I feel about that.
We then moved, with hundreds of others, down to zocolo where a troupe was doing a traditional incantation-show thing about the celebration and people were generally having a fabulous time. We, too, had a fabulous time but didn’t stay too late as the kids were tired
On Monday the kids’ school put on a parade so we duly got the kids in to their costumes, ignored the whining and stropping of SB who had refused all offers of green shorts and socks to complete his costume (he was a ninja turtle, obviously) but then decided he needed them, at 7am on Monday morning. That was fun.
We dropped the kids off at school at 8.30am, as requested, so they could refuse to eat the traditional day of the dead breakfast and returned at 9.30am to march with them. For once they didn’t cry at drop-off! The other kids and their families had some great costumes (although I remain unconvinced that Freddie Cruger is suitable for three year olds): characters from Monsters Inc, pirates, dead brides, dracula, a headless man etc etc. We’d been told to take sweets to throw to others so I’d picked up a couple of bags of chewy, wrapped things. Turns out I’d wildly underestimated as others were there with giant sacks of sweets to throw. Ah well. Given that it didn’t take long for our kids to cotton on to the trick of chucking sweets on the road near the other school kids and then all piling on top of them, I’m not sorry we didn’t take too many.
So we marched, from school, around the town to zocolo. We marched behind a banner and a brass band. For us the really cool thing was actually being a part of the festivities rather than watching as tourists. We were meant to be there, we’d been invited and no one from school thought it was odd that we were there. We could see other foreigners being a bit surprised at seeing us in the middle of it. The march meandered through town, stopped for a dance on a stage we stumbled across and then carried on down to zocolo where we all danced together and the kids collected as much sugary crap as they could (and I promptly confiscated it all!).
In the evening we went on a trip with our school. They took us out of town to a small cemetery. It was a weird trip. The kids slept on the bus and then all around the cemetery, in our arms. I had SB and Col had SG. I was constantly scared I was accidentally going to catch SB’s long legs in a flame as every grave had really long candles around it and the spaces for walking between the graves were extremely tight. We had one hour to look around this cemetery. We really didn’t need that long, especially with sleeping children in our arms.
For some reason I’d been expecting a sombre atmosphere. That’s not at all what we found. People were laughing and joking around the graves of their family members, the entrance to the cemetery was thronged with stalls selling beers, tacos and milkshakes and just inside the gates were three speakers that wouldn’t have been out of place at Nottinghill Carnival they were so huge and blaring out such loud music. I can’t imagine anyone would have much chance to have a proper chat with a dead one over music that loud!
We got home from that trip about midnight and dumped the kids straight in bed. This morning when I asked SB what he remembered about last night’s trip (they’d both woken for bits of it) he denied ever having been to the cemetery and was convinced it was a dream until i showed him pictures!
This evening, the first official day of dia de los muertos, we did the right thing and went to the main pantheon in Oaxaca despite the protests of the children. Once we got them there we were able to gloat and be extremely mature about having been right to force them out because it turns out there is a huge funfair to celebrate death just outside this enormous cemetery.
We had a quick stumble around the cemetery, which contains some truly huge tombs (some looked like bathrooms or weird small conservatories while others totally defied definition) as well as some very old ones. It couldn’t have been more different to last night’s experience. Last night, despite the music, felt like we were in a place where people really were caring for their deceased family members. Tonight, all of Oaxaca was there but few tombs were actually decorated or had family members sitting close by. Rather, the cemetery felt as if it was a place to hang out and enjoy the festivities.
Again, I was surprised by all I saw but then I realised that in the UK most of us celebrate xmas in this lighthearted manner so why shouldn’t others be celebrating their important days in the same way? Everything I’d read in my Spanish classes prepared me for the sombre, religious side of the festival but not once had the readings or discussions mentioned the fun side. How odd.
So, after our walk around, we took the kids to the fair. They had two rides each and we ate and then we came home because they were so incredibly tired that they had lost all ability to be reasonable or to comport themselves in an acceptable manner (let’s just say that our kids are generally fairly mild mannered but today they outdid themselves in an effort to be little beasts!).
It is interesting to have had so many discussions about death with SB. He has professed sadness about the idea of family members dying but is adamant that while others might not be allowed to walk on their/our graves, he and SG are perfectly entitled to do so (I didn’t tell him I had considered getting him dance on Margaret Thatcher’s grave when he was tiny!). This conversation came out of explaining why we were being so careful where we stepped in the cemetery.
He also now knows that we want to be cremated or turned in to trees when we die. He has taken this in and digest it. Tonight he informed us that once he has our ashes he is going to get us nice graves in which he will build us living rooms and kitchens and then he’ll put our ashes in there. I did explain that sort of defeats the point of cremation but he doesn’t care. I guess at least he’s thought about it, right?
All in all, a really great time has been had during the dia de los muertos period in Oaxaca. Tomorrow we head to the Yucatan Peninsula for the next stage of our adventure.