Of all the reasons we wanted to travel to Mexico, it was probably the Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead celebrations that was top of the list for us.
In the Mexican calendar, the Day of the Dead is the most spectacular of all the festivals. For a few days the whole country plunges into a unique celebration of death. It is the culmination of weeks of preparation in order to communicate with departed family members.
In the weeks preceding the festivities, craftsmen achieve the heights of fantasy making elaborate altars, papier-mache skeletons and other decorative goodies. Bakeries are filled with the aroma of the special Day of the Dead bread (Pan de Meurtos) and confectioners and market places spill over with chocolate and candied skulls and other ghoulish sweeties. Households are cleaned from top to bottom and traditional dishes are prepared to be placed at the altars. The outsides of homes and shopfronts have the most amazing decorations and life-sized (sometimes bigger than life) skeletons.
In the small village, Pomuch near Campeche, we were so privileged to witness an ancient ritual performed whereby family members unearth the departed and the remains are cleaned and put on display. Although a bit shocking at first, (especially since some of the departed were in a lesser state of decay than others) it was a very moving experience.
To ensure the departed find their way from the cemetery, flower petals are strewn along the path leading to the family altar, where the souls of the dead feed on the offerings.
Church bells start tolling on the evening of 31 October announcing the visit of child spirits and celebrations continue until 2 November. These include nocturnal pilgrimages to cemeteries where candles are lit, food offerings made and pictures of saints installed.