By: Michael Schwartz
It is October 31st. Children skip through the 600-year old streets of Patzcuaro, Mexico, collecting candy, as families, business owners, and churches prepare for the annual Dia de los Muertos celebration the following day. Vibrant orange marigolds hang from every tree, archway, and sign in sight. The mouth-watering scent of cooking elotes drift across the town square, as traditional dancers bound amidst the hanging globe lights. Patzcuaro is known for its rich and traditional celebration of the holiday, and this is just the beginning.
Dia de los Muertos, or “Day of the Dead,” is an annual celebration deeply rooted in Mexican tradition, family values, honoring the deceased, and respecting your elders. The celebration is commonly misunderstood—being incorrectly associated with Halloween, pagan rituals, and costumes. This unfortunate and inaccurate perception is likely a result of selective media coverage and pop culture influence. This will set the record straight.
October 31st – 12:00pm – Patzcuaro
The preparation is an all day affair. Schools are closed, and everyone lends a hand. By late morning the town center is filled with students, parents, and community leaders all working together. At the center of the square large and artfully decorated altars surround the fountain, each representing a neighboring community, and memorializing their loved ones.
Dancers, dressed in traditional performance-wear, take a break on the side of the fountain in the Patzcuaro town square.
A woman from the neighboring town of Santa Fe helps to trim Marigolds in preparation for the festivities.
A family of tourists from Canada take a selfie in front of the marigold-clad town sign.
October 31st – 7:00pm – Patzcuaro
By now thousands of marigolds have been meticulously placed in every nook and cranny, twilight has set in, and the warm glow of candles illuminates the city center. With the evening festivities well underway, the only masks and costumes are on children or wandering tourists. Here, Mexico celebrates differently.
A crowd packs the square as local high school students begin a show of traditional harvest dances. The graceful performances honor the deceased, the upcoming crop, and the prolific fish population in the lake surrounding Patzcuaro. Children watch with wide eyes as the brightly colored dancers light up the night.