LIVING / Día de Los Muertos 2007 in Merida

Día de Los Muertos 2007 in Merida

Día de Los Muertos 2007 in Merida

1 November 2007 LIVING 11

Last night after enjoying a leisurely dinner of panuchos and chuletas de cerdo (pork chops), washed down with tall glasses of agua de sandía and agua de pitaya at Parque Santiago, the Working Gringos and their friends wandered down to the Plaza Grande to see what was happening there. And indeed, there was a lot going on. The main square was lined with trucks from pueblitos around the peninsula, each one being relieved of its burden of rocks, palm fronds and palos (sticks), the raw materials for building the altars and their temporary shelters for Dia de Los Muertos. The men from the pueblos were working well into the night (it was about 11 pm when we stopped by), lashing together the sticks with sisal twine, building lovely palapa roofs from green palm fronds, and setting up altars inside. We were amazed at the differences in the construction methods and the designs of the structures. We joked that one way to find a good construction crew would be to come down to this event and look for the well-constructed hut with a sturdy roof and get the names of the builders. Some looked nice enough to move into, while others looked like they might fall over in the slightest wind. All of them would be gone by the next nightfall.

This morning, on our way to work, the traffic around the zocalo was snarly and congested...much more so than most mornings here. We parked a few blocks away and wandered down to the square with cameras at the ready. The zocalo was a beehive of activity, with both participants and observers milling about and getting in each others' way. While the observers wandered and took photos, the participants were busy putting the finishing touches on their altars. Some altars and huts were humble affairs, while others were elaborately-constructed extravaganzas. Some were erected by departments in the government, others by groups of people from pueblos outside of Merida, towns from Sotuta to Opichen to Progreso and everything in between and beyond. Progreso's altar even included a sandy floor! There seemed to be a lot more of them than there were last year, but true to form, by the time a second team of Yucatan Living photographers headed out there just after lunch, all the participants were beginning to tear down their creations so they could head for home.

A Day of the Dead altar in this part of the world invariably contains some of the following ingredients: candles, flowers, a picture of un fallecido (a fallen one), some sort of food (more on that in a minute...) and various decorations, done to taste. Most altars were sheltered in a temporary hut with walls of widely spaced sticks (to let the breezes in) and palapa roofs (to keep the rain out). The altars were mostly built from sticks and planks. Outside the huts some had set up fires and were making tortillas. Others had created pozos de deseos (wishing wells), and still others had bateas (washboards), gardens or stone walls arranged outside, mimicing the environment in which these altars might be found in a typical Mayan village. We were happy to see that there were a lot of young people participating, dressed in traditional dress and a few even helping with the tortillando (tortilla-making) process!

The atmosphere was festive and live Mayan music blared from the loudspeakers set up around the square. The Mayan music included flutes, drums and caracoles (conch shells). In every hut, food was either set out for the hungry dead or being prepared by the living. Oh, the food. Every delicacy and favorite Yucatecan dish was on display, from pavo en relleno negro to atole, camote, calabazas, pan de muertos (a special bread made for this holiday) and of course, pibs. The breezes blowing around the square smelled delicious!

It was with a big sigh that the Working Gringos headed back to the office to, well... to work! But before we set our collective noses back down next to that grindstone, we decided to share with you these photos and this account of Merida's celebration of Day of the Dead.


  • Jennifer 14 years ago

    Hi there,

    I'm planning a trip to Merida for Dia de los Muertos. Trying to schedule flights and looking into whether festivities take place on Nov. 1 or 2 (or both). If both, are festivities only during the morning of the 2nd (as in--the wee hours?). The best flight option is to return on the afternoon of the 2nd, but we don't want to miss anything!

    Many thanks in advance for your help!


  • Kellsie and Sarah 14 years ago

    Hola amigos,
    I was reading your article and I think that it is very interesting. I think that this is a really weird and very nice a sad ritual that they perform in Mexico and the other Latin countries.

  • Working Gringos 14 years ago

    Well, since you said such nice things about the website, we'll give you a little tip. We live in the San Sebastian/Ermita district of Merida (south of Plaza Grande). About a week ago, we got a flier in our door announcing El Corredor de Las Animas, which translates as "the hallway/passageway of the souls". It was inviting residents to join a walk from the Ermita church, along Calle 66, down to the Cemetery sometime on October 31. Of course, typically, it neglected to give a time, but we're looking into that. The flier promises traditional and sacred music, and tells the residents that the graveyard will be open all night (it usually closes at 5 pm) and that they are encouraged to build altars and make a big show of their traditions.
    We plan to be there... and of course, we'll be sure to list it in our Events pages as we find out more.

  • Peter & Susan Solomon 14 years ago

    Working Gringos;
    We are so excited! Our long anticipated trip to Merida commences on October 28, 2008. I have been devouring your fantastic webinfo (IMHO this is the best travel/cultural website in cyberlandia) for almost a year. This is my first post back at ya, and I chose this article to tag onto because we are really thrilled to be in Merida during Dia de los Muertos - 2008. Knowing this is Mexico and things happen both traditionally and spontaneously and its hard to plan - that said - got any tips on events and locations of Dia de los Muertos happenings in the week leading up to November 1 - 2?
    BTW, I love your house (oh, my god its gorgeous), so rich an experience for we voyeurs because of your generous telling of the back story.
    Thanks again, WGs for all you do.

  • GabachaYucateca 15 years ago

    My pobre Yucateco passed his first Dia de Los Muertos outside of Yucatan. Had to hear what happened from his sister and mom. They wanted to know if he could feel abuelita (whom, coincidentally, he called Mimi, just as I did my grandmother) tugging at his toes in his bed.

    Perhaps chachakwa (sic) is pictured in the last photo...which I love to eat and prepare in the pib, but can't spell since I've never seen it written!

  • 15 years ago

    Happy Hanal Pixan!!! oh I miss Merida...

  • Khaki 15 years ago

    This holiday is still practiced in some parts of South Louisiana – but many of us have gotten away from the traditions. “too much trouble for just one day” we say. Perhaps we should all “stop the world” on these festival days and either return to our old traditions – or begin to celebrate them for the first time. These traditions are an integral part of the Yucateco “quality of life” of which even we gringos are so proud.

  • Peregrina 15 years ago

    Hola Amigos:
    As I sat down to read your article, I realized I too have the "tradition" to do for our love ones and altar with the foods (tamales, chocolate, pan) and things they like while alive, I also placed fresh flowers, my Bible, my Rosary, candles and of course prayers of faith, all these through time and distance in remembrance of our loved ones that passed before us. Thank you for the great photos of the altars on the Day of the Death. I appreciated it.

  • Kathie p 15 years ago

    Dear Working Gringos,
    Again a huge thank you. We were there this time last year and were lamenting not being there this year. And lo and behold I come out to my computer this morning and you have transported me to our beloved Merida. Thanks for the visit. Hopefully we will see you in Dec. for our visit. Be well, Kathie

  • Maria Novoa 15 years ago

    Tamales sufridos (or some refer to them as tamales ahogados)??? Is that what I see in the lower right corner of the last picture? And not only that, but pan de muerto, 'chinas' (or 'naranjas'), chocolate, and so many other goodies?!!! Mmmmm!!! My abuelita, que en paz descanse, used to make these - not only for the Dia de los Muertos altar, but for any and every special occassion. Reading your article brought back so many memories of my grandmother. Wonderful, terrific, fantabulistic memories. I miss her so much. Thank you for your article. As usual... it rates five stars!

  • Jack & Janet 15 years ago

    Oh, to be in Mérida again! We got to experience this last year . . . unforgettable. Thanks for bringing back some very happy memories.

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