Day of the Dead in Merida
Once a year in Merida, the streets come alive with the dead. With painted faces and flickering candles, they process through the town. On El Dia de los Muertos, Mexicans honour and remember those who have passed on. We were lucky enough to spend Day of the Dead in Merida, known for its lavish procession to celebrate this important occasion.
A walk with the dead
We began our evening with a walk through the cemetery, unsure of what we would find. At first, it seemed that there was nothing out of the ordinary. The graves were quiet and eerily beautiful beneath the evening sky.
As we deciphered the curled script on ancient family tombs, the long central avenue leading to the main gates began to fill up. Spooky music started to play from speakers hidden in the trees. Soon, we reached the procession in waiting. Police ushered the crowds around to the other long avenue where the dead would walk. Already, their white faces were flitting through the crowd. Hurrying, late for their annual appearance.
The procession of the muertos
We took up a prime position and waited. Opposite us, a ghoulish group of scouts in their blue uniforms sat on the curb, their chalk-white faces chattering excitedly. The day of the dead is a family affair, and children are everywhere. Many were dressed in the colours of the dead: red, black, white, and faces daubed with the grinning calavera, that universal symbol of mortality.
Finally, the procession was underway. A gigantically proportioned dead man strode past, arms and legs operated discreetly by his living assistants. Music blasted, and the crowd stood transfixed by the slow, rhythmic movement of the huge puppet.
Behind him, streamed the dead. Hundreds of men and women, all dressed in white. The men wore red neckerchiefs tied in a knot at their throats and a traditional straw hat. The women dressed in beautifully embroidered traditional tops and many wore their hair piled high and decorated with flowers and ribbons. Each person carried a candle, casting flickering shadows upwards. Green and yellow light played around their white masks, and the deep black sockets of their eyes.
Streets alive with the dead
Once the procession had passed, we closed in with the crowd to follow behind them. Bands played and every other house sported a small stall selling food or drink: smoothies and ice-creams, empanadas and tacos, ice-cream and sweets. Ever entrepreneurial, most Mexicans see this night as an opportunity to make a little extra, while joining in with the celebrations.
A family affair
Whole families were sitting out on the streets, the contents of their living rooms proudly displayed. On their dining tables grand feasts were laid out for their loved ones: mole and tamales, rice and fruits, water and salt. But these items were not for sale. The journey from the afterlife is long, and the dead need these ofrendas, or offerings, to quench their hunger and thirst.
Pictures of the departed and favourite items – a beloved hat, a well-worn shawl – are placed on the altars. Touchingly, young and old sit together to remember their relatives. Perhaps in the morning, a little of their favourite food will have gone. They will know the dead are not so very far away.