Halloween in Cuernavaca

Originally the end of the Celtic year, Halloween now celebrates Eve of All Saint’s Day in most countries. The Day of the Dead has been celebrated in Mexico as a 100% indigenous observance, as an Aztec holiday. However, the Aztecs celebrated their tribute to the dead in August. When Mexico begin embracing holidays from other countries, like Valentines Day, which is called the Day of Love and Friendship in Mexico, they decided to move the traditional August holiday to October 31, to coincide with Halloween. But in Cuernavaca, as in all of Mexico, Halloween is celebrated over several days.

For those who have not been in Cuernavaca during Halloween, you are in for a surprise! While Day of the Dead has been celebrated in Mexico for decades, the wearing of costumes and especially the Trick or Treat part of the holiday only started in the late 1960s and is still not as widely accepted as in other countries. Today, the celebration mimics that other countries, such as the wearing of costumes by both children and adults. Don’t be surprised if you go to one of your favorite restaurants to find the wait staff dressed in gore.

October 27 brings the start of Feast of the Holy Souls (Fiesta de las Santas Animas), when people will visit the graves of relatives where they clean the graves and adorn them with pine needles and pungent marigold (cempasuchil) flowers, which have long been associated with death, assemble a temporary alter (ofrendas) and place candles to guide the souls. They will bring the favorite food of past relatives and friends, which yes, sometimes means alcohol, depending on the choices of the departed. There will be photos and other memorabilia.

In some locations, celebrants wear shells on their clothing, so that when they dance, the noise will wake up the dead; some will also dress up as the deceased.

Along with the offerings there will be a picnic, which may last all day and into the night. It is a day of remembrance, happiness and celebration of past lives. In fact, the holiday may last as long as it takes to visit all of the graves of the dearly departed.

On October 31, Halloween is celebrated in Mexico and it is gaining in popularity. However, in the beginning most Mexicans were hesitant to embrace. At the time, most Halloween costumes and candy came from the U.S. and Mexicans saw it as a plot by U.S. businesses as a way make money. Some detractors claimed that Halloween and the Day of the Dead have nothing to do with one another.

Decades ago, when students attempted to hold parties at Halloween  at the public schools, The SEP (the Mexican Education Department) banned them in attempt to carry on the tradition of the Day of the Dead.

However, the sales have shifted to the Mexican businesses that make a considerable amount of money from the celebration. Today, Mexican businesses manufacturer and sell costumes, candy, makeup and more. It has officially became a Mexican festival.

However, Mexico celebrates Halloween with a slightly different twist to Halloween in other countries. In Mexico, for a few days before and after this date, children will visit neighboring homes in search of treats, but with a difference in that the well behaved children of Cuernavaca do not play tricks on those who do not provide them with candy or other treats. When the reach your door, they will ring the bell and shout “¡Me da mi calaverita!”, which translates to “Give me my candy skull” Calaveritas, are little sugar candy skulls that are given out on this holiday.

The calavera skull candy comes from a humorously morbid poem which is traditionally address to a friend or foe. The poetry has it’s origin in Cervantes’ Don Quixote, in early 17th century Spain.

You will find organized Halloween themed parties, especially with the  teenagers, but adults are not beyond throwing their own parties, which do not necessarily fall on the day of Halloween. So you may see a devil driving past you one night.

November 1 is All Saints’ Day in Cuernavaca, coincides with the first day of the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) celebration. It is also known as Day of the Innocents (Día de los Inocentes), as it honors deceased children and infants (angelitos), who were less than 18 years of age and unmarried, with candles, food and flower offerings.

In Mexico All Saints’ Day is devoted to Los Angelitos – that is, all the dead children, and is a prelude to November 2’s Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, a national holiday on which all the grown-up ghosts will be arriving in full force. The smaller ghosts get a head start.

To help the departed find their way back to the homes where they once lived, parents and still-living family members often shoot off firecrackers. The children may run through the streets with lanterns and ask for coins. People light bonfires, set off firecrackers, and hang lanterns on trees to guide the souls of the dead home. In some parts of the country on this night they strew a path of flower petals from the graveyard to the front porch.

November 2, brings All Souls Day (Día de los Fieles Difuntos), which honors dead relatives and/or friends (who were more than 18 years of age or married) with candles, food and flower offerings, altars, and pre-Hispanic and Christian rituals. It is not a state holiday.

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About G. William Hood

G. William Hood is a writer, fine arts painter, educator and world traveler. He lives in Cuernavaca with his pet cockatiel, Pepe.
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