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Ann Murdy | profile | all galleries >> Día de los Muertos in Pátzcuaro and the Surrounding Areas 2017 tree view | thumbnails | slideshow

Día de los Muertos in Pátzcuaro and the Surrounding Areas 2017

At the end of October I returned to Michoacán to focus on documenting how Día de los Muertos is celebrated in the Purepecha, lakeside community of Santa Fe de Laguna. This was my fourth visit to Michoacán and my twentieth visit to Mexico to document this celebration of life. I couldn’t believe that it had been twenty-five years ago since I made my first visit to Michoacán!

“La Noche de los Muertos” is the official name of the celebration in Michoacán. Unlike other areas of Mexico, it is primarily celebrated on November 1st. Santa Fe de la Laguna was different as homes are open on October 31st for visitation of the altars for the angelitos from six to midnight, on November 1st the homes are open again at the same time to visit the difuntos and on November 2nd at three o’clock in the afternoon the people visit the pantheon.

I had never seen altars like these in my prior visits to Oaxaca, Puebla, Chiapas and Guanajuato. People who had passed away within the year had marigold arches over the doorway of their homes. It is only the first year one passes away that the soul receives one of these elaborate altars. They were very large. Many of them had marigolds strung from the ceilings. They all had mountains of fruit placed on the floor at the edge of the altar. Upon entering the home I presented the hostess with a taper candle and fruit. The hostess kissed the candle and then placed the fruit on the floor. The men on the other hand, stayed outside and drank alcoholic beverages. Inside most of the homes women cantadoras performed the rosary to the Virgin Mary on straw mats that were set up in front of the altars. It was incredibly serene and ethereal to hear the calming sound of the women praying as they chanted. It was truly a spiritual experience. One was offered posole, atole and pan to eat during the visit in each of the homes. The people were extremely warm and friendly.

The visit to the pantheon on November 2nd was full of color. If a child had died the parents brought in mini altars to place upon the tombs. If an adult had died crosses were brought in to put on top of the tombs. Bread and fruit was strung from the crosses. An outdoor mass was conducted. The priest read off the names of everyone who had died in Santa Fe de Laguna. People lined up to have their crosses blessed by the priest. It was a joyous afternoon spent in prayer and celebration.

Early on the morning of November 2nd, I had my driver pick me up at five thirty in the morning to take me the pantheons in Ihuatzio and San Pedro Cucuchucho. Unfortunately, because Michoacán is such a destination to experience “La Noche de los Muertos” all of the cemeteries are overflowing with tourists throughout the night. I kept thinking to myself they should rename the event to “La Noche de las Touristas”. Tour buses are out in full force throughout the night on November 1st to see the families keeping vigils by the graves all night long. Getting from place to place is intense because of all of the traffic jams and trying to find a place to park. This is especially the case if you want to visit Tzintzuntzan. When I went to the two above pantheons I was the only tourist there, which was shocking! Masses were being conducted in both places. Upon leaving each pantheon, women gave me fruit and bread as I moved on. It was another special moment for me.

Pátzcuaro is great during this time because of the Tianguis Artesanal that takes place on the Plaza Grande for nine days. On the second day, the Concurso takes place at the Ex Convento Jesuita. This is a wonderful opportunity to see the best of the best of folk art that is created in Michoacán. Most of the merchandise is very expensive, but what you are seeing is a delight for the eyes. Along with the market going on, there is a row of vendors selling sugar figures under one of the portals on the Plaza Grande, which are absolutely delightful!

Another favorite place that I enjoy visiting when I’m in Michoacán is Los Hornos de Ortiz bakery in Morelia. This bakery has been open for over thirty years now. The owner, Rafael Mendoza, is responsible for creating the fabulous images made from bread along with the posters for the bakery. This was the third time I have taken photos in the bakery. Some of the figures I recognized from the past, whereas others were new such as the figure of a girl taking a selfie of herself. Señor Mendoza definitely has a sense of humor!

Lastly, no Día de los Muertos celebration would be complete without seeing multitudes of ceramic calaveras from Capula and people dressed up as them. This playful nature of the celebration originated from the broadsheets made popular by Jose Guadalupe Posada at the end of the 19th and the early part of the 20th century. These engravings of calaveras were created to mock death, especially the people from the upper class. The women from the upper class were known as Catrinas whereas the men were known as Catrins. Through these satirical engravings Posada illustrated that no was spared in death no matter how wealthy you were! We will all be skinny skeletons when we pass away!

The joy of witnessing all of this first hand is a beautiful experience. It is a wonderful time to honor and love those who are no longer with us. It is also a time to celebrate their lives. As long as we remember our loved ones, they will live forever!
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Decorating grave in Santa Fe de Laguna
Decorating grave in Santa Fe de Laguna
Altar for Nana Rosalia
Altar for Nana Rosalia
Looking at the altar
Looking at the altar
Decorating a grave for angelito
Decorating a grave for angelito
Praying at the altar Santa Fe de Laguna
Praying at the altar Santa Fe de Laguna
Taking it all in
Taking it all in
Altar in Santa Fe de Laguna
Altar in Santa Fe de Laguna
Grave decorating in Santa Fe de Laguna
Grave decorating in Santa Fe de Laguna
Ladies praying at the altar
Ladies praying at the altar
At the altar in Santa Fe de Laguna
At the altar in Santa Fe de Laguna
Serving atole and pan
Serving atole and pan
Arranging food on the altar
Arranging food on the altar
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