Day of the Dead 2018 – I know, I know – it’s over 2 months late……

Greetings! and welcome to 2019. I am first going to go back to 2018 and Day of the Dead, probably stretching this over 2 or 3 posts. I was going to write about it in a more timely manner, but I had to prepare for the Rotary Mexico-USA Friendship conference, and afterwards write up everything I learned and submit it to my grants committee, and then we had back-and-forth discussions and meetings. Before I knew it, it was time to write about Christmas, so I decided to save it for another day.

New Year’s Eve and Day has come and gone, so naturally I had to write about that, and as I was preparing to finally catch up this past week, I had a 12-hour migraine and was bedridden. Of course, once the pain was gone, it was time to go to bed. After being in bed for almost 24 hours, I woke up three days ago in severe back pain, barely able to walk. After taking Motrin and trying to ride it out, my neighbor took me to a clinic yesterday, and after injections of steroids and an anti-inflammatory and sending me home with anti-inflammatory pills, I am better and at least able to walk around the house. Warm compresses and Arnica gel are also in use and a girdle for support (hadn’t worn one of those since I was 18, and never thought I would again).

So, with all that, I missed the last few days of our 9-day celebration of the Virgin of Guadalupe, including the dancing and fireworks from the Castillo – a very tall tower loaded with fireworks which are set off one layer at a time.

Oh, well, since I am a permanent resident, I have seen it before and will see it again. If the Easter tradition continues, I will see the Castillo for the Easter celebration in a few months. Besides, it is so loud that I heard all the music and fireworks from inside my house.

March 6th was Three Kings Day, and since I had the plastic baby Jesus in my piece of cake, I get to give tamales to everyone on February 2nd, so I will save my post for Three Kings and combine it with Tamale Day. And now, on to the Day of the Dead.

I had been planning to see one of my friends who lives in Guadalajara for Day of the Dead. However, the Mexico-USA conference was just ending two days after the start of those celebrations, so I missed the first day, and ended up missing the final day as I was going to be in transit back to Cofradía. Once again, there’s always next year.

When I visit Guadalajara, I stay in a town called Tlaquepaque – a town of many artisans, museums, restaurants, stores with all kinds of alcohol and sweets, and outdoor statues everywhere. Also every kind of craft you can think of from pottery, ceramics, paintings, etc.

I decided to walk around and scope out all the activities, and came upon face painters and decided, why not get my face painted. After all was done, and I had picked out a head piece of flowers, I realized that my white hair actually added to the illusion that my head was now just a skull.

Before and during makeup application


All done !

I usually rub my eyes quite frequently during the day, and had to stop myself from doing that so as not to smear the makeup. And as I wandered around, I realized that my top didn’t exactly match my head anymore, so when I found a place selling tops, I just had to get one. And here it is:

One thing, once I was in full Día de los Muertos mode was all the attention I received from tourists. I can’t count the number of people who asked to take my picture, or asked to have my picture taken with them. Nice little ego boost there…..

Of course, I was taking plenty of pictures myself. One couple asked to be paid for taking their picture, so I did – just a few pesos so it was ok – not like what you hear stateside of some actors or athletes expecting a lot of money for an autograph or photo.

Maybe next year I’ll bring along a skirt so I can totally fit in. 


There was also a young girl who graciously posed for a photo and did not ask for a tip. However, I was in a coffee shop at the time enjoying a coffee and something to eat, and I got the impression she was the daughter of the owner.

Of course, there were innumerable Catrinas – statues of elegantly dressed skeletons -, skulls, altars to the dead – more than I’ve ever seen at one time.

Daughter of the coffee shop owner. And PS – if you see yellow and red plastic bottles on the table do NOT assume it is for ketchup and mustard. That would be a big mistake. Always ask or 
dispense a drop on your spoon or the back of your hand to taste –
a VERY SMALL drop in case it is Picante or Enchiloso
meaning hot and spicy


Of course, this celebration is not only about dressing up as skeletons. It is about honoring those who have passed away before us. Altars are erected with flowers, paper flags, and the favorite food of the deceased. Photos are also placed on the altars, and candles, and a cross of salt at the base to purify the soul.

When I first came down to Cofradía de Suchitlán before making the final decision to move to Mexico, I stayed in the volunteer’s residence of Project Amigo, a literacy project for which I had volunteered since 2012. I was told it was a good idea to live here for 6 months before making a final decision, since living here full time and volunteering one week per year were two totally different experiences.

Well on February 22nd, 2016 – one month and 12 days after I arrived, my mother died of a stroke in Maryland, USA. It was difficult for me, since I had not been there and it was sudden, so I had no idea it would happen. All of the students got together when they heard and erected an altar to my mother. My sister had sent me two photos of her – one recent and one taken in 1948, the year she married my father. So the students had misunderstood and put her birth and death years as 1948-2016, but that just adds to the uniqueness of this altar. The cross of salt is at the base and the flag and symbol for Ukraine is behind the cross, since she was Ukrainian. The paper flags (papel picada) were also made by the students in the colors of Ukraine – blue and yellow.

The students also brought food and fruit, and I put out chicken, potatoes and beer for her. Doña Meche, a local shop owner, brought the white lillies. This gives you an idea of how caring the local people are here and why I consider myself at home now, even though I am in a different country from my prior life.

Anyway, here are some examples of altars set up in Tlaquepaque:

It was a fairly hot day, and had also rained for a short time. Since my friend Claudia could not join me until she got off from work, I went back to my hotel room to decide whether or not I should take off the makeup, eventually deciding that it had been on all day and it should be washed off, although I was sorry to see it go.

Before washing my face, I decided to take a few photos to show my face without the flower headpiece, with it, and a few other shots, just for my vanity:

See how my white hair just blends right in with my “skull” –

And so, when Claudia arrived, I was bare-faced and ready to go out again. In the evening, there were street actors like these two guys. After the photo was taken, I had totally forgotten that I still had their hat on as I walked away and was startled with by a tap on my shoulder, and sheepishly gave them back their hat, apologizing profusely.

There were many other street actors, but by that time it was dark and I would not have been able to take photos which would have done them justice.

Papel picado, paper marigolds and lights in the street

Lights, streamers and marigolds in front of restaurants and shops

And so I will end this post here, and in my second post describe the pottery museum that I visited and the beautiful celebration of Día de los Muertos that was held there in the evening.

Fountain with marigolds in my favorite restaurant
El Patio

Until next time – nos vemos!

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