Last week I was sponsored by Mexico Kan Tours, Tulum-based agency specializing in conscious travel, to visit central Mexico’s state of Michoacan for a photo-reportage of the famous Day of the Dead festivities held in towns and villages near Morelia and lake Pátzcuaro. Sharing the same values in travel with my friends at Mexico Kan Tours, I was overjoyed at the opportunity to collaborate because all of us strive to present to our respective audiences a deeper look into Mexico’s complex culture, something sadly missed by vast numbers of visitors to this country who do not venture out of ubiquitous resorts. But all work aside, witnessing Day and Night of the Dead in Michoacan has been my personal bucket-list item for a very long time, therefore I immediately jumped at this last-minute chance to travel, to photograph the celebration, and to ultimately share with everyone what I came to know as one of the most beautiful traditions in the world.
Day of the Dead or Día de los Muertos on November 2 is one of the most important national holidays in Mexico and is a perfect time to observe in action how the beliefs of contemporary Mexican people stem from a foundation based in the blending and layering of complicated indigenous cultures with Catholic traditions of Spanish invaders. Because of the great variety of indigenous groups throughout Mexico, the specific traditions and rituals also vary from region to region. For the most part, the actual Day of the Dead festivities begin on November 1, which is called the Day of Little Angels or Día de los Angelitos, devoted specifically to honoring deceased infants and children. Preparations for celebrating start on November 31, the day when local people gather to decorate the streets with myriads of marigolds and build altars to honor the dead. The variety of altars is creatively impressive since they’re not always devoted to people’s actual dead relatives. Altar-building competitions are held throughout the area’s schools and I have seen altars honoring dead kings, queens, and famous saints like Mother Theresa. Some altars are more abstract and aren’t devoted to people at all. One of my favorites was actually built to honor maize, better known as corn – Mexico’s most important food staple, which someone depicted in their altar as crying and ultimately dead as a result of being replaced by new genetically-modified breeds.
As I allowed myself to be guided by the camera and talked to people in my slowly-improving Spanish, what I saw and what I hoped to capture in my images was the utmost care and seriousness with which people infuse their preparation process. It struck me as pure, meditative and absolutely profound! For this reason I devote the first installment of my Day of the Dead coverage exclusively to day-time preparations.
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