Mexican villages try to preserve authentic Day of the Dead

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By FERNANDA PESCE

November 2, 2021 GMT

AROCUTIN, Mexico (AP) – Famous Day of the Dead ceremonies around Lake Patzcuaro in Mexico were again crowded with visitors on Monday, an economic relief for a tourism-dependent region that suffered from last year’s pandemic shutdown .

In the lakeside town of Patzcuaro itself, tourists were treated to a parade, theatrical and musical performances.

“Come and visit us, Patzcuaro welcomes you with open arms,” ​​said Julio Arreola, mayor of the city in the western state of Michoacan, famous for its squares and colonial-era architecture.

But in some smaller villages around the lake, locals have tried to preserve the authentic, non-touristy flavor of traditions handed down for hundreds of years.

While the children of Mexico City wore Halloween-style costumes based on the Netflix series “Squid Game,” residents of the village of Arocutín were more concerned with the flower arrangements and candles meant to guide the spirits of the house of the dead.

The people of Arocutín began hanging traditional garlands of marigold flowers on Sunday morning to adorn the entrance to the small local cemetery.

Arocutín remains a resistance: it is the only town in the region where the cemetery is in the cemetery and where all the graves are dug directly into the earth, surrounded by a simple ring of stones, rather than more elaborate vaults in cement and brick. used elsewhere.

“It’s about preserving tradition as much as possible,” said Alma Ascencio, the representative of local artisans. “Tourism has twisted everything. It’s a feast, of course, but religious, so there is no music or a lot of alcohol. It’s very private, a completely different thing.

While Janitzio Island on Lake Patzcuaro is the best-known site for colorful Day of the Dead celebrations, the small island remains closed to visitors to avoid overcrowding.

This has raised concerns that tourists will flock to the small villages nearby.

These concerns can be exaggerated. The only American in attendance at Arocutín on Monday was Georgia Conti. A retired healthcare manager, she decided to move to Arocutín precisely because of its beauty and traditions, and she now lives here with her dog.

While she was building her house with her late husband, they found bones believed to be those of a soldier killed in 1915 during the Mexican Revolution.

“Some tourists come here, but here is a different world. I really respect their traditions, ”Conti said. “The villagers are really welcoming and told me that I can lay my mother’s ashes here, next to the unknown soldier. I will probably be buried here when I die ”.

The Day of the Dead originated in indigenous cultures and has been celebrated for thousands of years, but tourists didn’t start arriving in Arocutín until 2002. Residents are open to sharing their costumes, but reluctant to change them. in any way.

“We don’t celebrate Halloween here. We are not Americans, we celebrate our dead. Our culture is quite rich here in Michoacán and Mexico, ”Ascencio said while preparing marigold garlands.

Preparations for the Day of the Dead begin on the 31st with residents adorning the graves with marigold arches and candles.

It is the night when Mexicans celebrate their deceased children, while the night of 1 to 2 is dedicated to the dead adults.

Arocutín is one of the few communities where a church bell rings to call souls and bring them back to the land of the living, to prevent them from getting lost. Each community has a different sound. It is also one of the few communities where people stay awake all night, offering food and gifts to the deceased.

“We live with our dead. We bring them everything they loved when they were alive. Sometimes it’s a beer or a tequila with a cigarette, ”said Alma Ascencio.

Elizabeth Ascencio lost her newborn baby 20 years ago and comes every year to adorn the small stone tomb with marigold petals to ensure her return for the night.

“It’s a special day, a beautiful day,” said Elizabeth Ascencio. “We are trying very hard to welcome our dead.”

Each year, the town erects a large decorated arch at the entrance to the cemetery. For many, this is the door through which the dead enter.

According to tradition, the only force which allows the inhabitants to lift the tree trunks that form the ark are the souls of the children who respond to the sound of the bells and come to help them.

Bunches of Mexican marigolds adorn another monumental wooden arch that stands on the floor of another small cemetery not far from Arocutín. A group of locals patiently tie the flowers to tree trunks, while others rest or enjoy a taco in the sun. The villagers decorate the arches, then put them in place.

Cecilio Sánchez, a construction worker and resident of nearby San Francisco Uricho, learned how to make the floral arch from his elders.

“But for all of us, our arch is much more beautiful than Arocutín’s,” said Sánchez.

Maria Ermenegildo, 69, is a traditional embroiderer craftswoman who has lived all her life in Arocutín.

“We’ve always done it this way,” said Ermenegildo, while finishing the last marigold garlands before the big night. “No other village can decorate and celebrate like we do. We are very proud every time tourists tell us how beautiful everything is.

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