I love celebrations and traditions. Thanksgiving, Christmas, the Fourth of July. The rituals, the togetherness, the FOOD. That doesn’t mean that it always has to be the same way – I’m looking forward to seeing how we interpret Thanksgiving here – and I also love experiencing new celebrations and traditions of different cultures. Obviously moving to Mexico has opened up all kinds of opportunities and one we have eagerly been looking forward to is Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).
I’m the first to admit that I had heard of Dia de los Muertos while in the United States, but my knowledge was limited to it being the day after Halloween and I vaguely thought the two were related. Not. At. All. Mexico please forgive my ignorance. Dia de los Muertos is not morbid or depressing or scary, it’s actually a holiday celebrating life by honoring the lives and memories of departed loved ones. And I do mean CELEBRATE!
While the holiday traces its roots back to an Aztec festival it has obviously undergone some changes in the last 500 or so years. In traditional areas it is celebrated by the building of altars either in the family home or near the graves of loved ones. The purpose of these altars is to entice the deceased’s spirit close enough to hear the prayers be said and stories being told in their honor. Favorite foods, drinks and possessions are often placed upon the altar to encourage the spirits to stick around. It’s important to remember that this is not a festival about death but rather it’s a celebration of the life of those who have passed on.
So how did we celebrate Dia de los Muertos in Playa del Carmen? A bit differently naturally. Playa is not what you would call a “traditional” area of Mexico. Because of this, many of the old beliefs have gone out of vogue here and not many people celebrate Dia de los Muertos in the traditional way. For those that do, the celebration is a pretty private matter. We don’t have any ancestors of own buried nearby and we felt a bit weird about standing around the cemetery snapping pictures of someone else’s family so we had to come up with an alternative. Enter Xcaret Archaeological Park.
We’ve mentioned Xcaret before in our Xcaret Mexico Espactacular post about the excellent cultural exhibits, events and shows that they have there. This park puts on a massive four day Fiesta de Vida y Muerte event that was recommended to us by several friends. In lieu of witnessing a “traditional” celebration we decided to take their advice and head to the park.
What greeted us was so massive it was overwhelming. I truly think that it would take the entire four days just to see and experience everything! There were performance pavilions with everything ranging from story telling, to ballet, to traditional music.
There were workshops for kids, sweat lodges, photo contests, graffiti walls and places set up to paint your face.
There were so many beautiful altars set up.
And there was so much food. Vendors were set up everywhere selling salbutes, tamales, pibils and empanadas. We just picked a random one to eat at and were not disappointed.
And of course there were stands set up selling Pan de Muertos, a traditional sweet bread, along with a cup of chocolate that we made sure to try as well. There were so many things going on at once that we would have been a bit overwhelmed even if everyone hadn’t been dressed as skeletons!
Everywhere we went people were joyful and excited. I can’t stress enough how much this was a celebration of life, not a sad reflection on death. I’m thrilled we were able to participate in Dia de los Muertos and am thinking we’ve found a new tradition.