Day of the Dead

Patzcuaro, Mexico

Patzcuaro has arguably the best Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico. From cultural festivals to offerings of food and flowers to dead relatives, the Day of the Dead is an eye-opening entry into ancient beliefs. Book very early if you would like to go.

Patzcuaro and its surrounding villages have one of the best-known Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico. The celebrations begin at the end of October with a cultural festival that includes paintings, photography, film, dance, crafts and altars that are created for this day. Canoeing competitions on the lake are popular as well as "torneos de calaveras"(tournaments of skulls) which are satirical poetry contests with the theme of death and black humour.

Markets catering to Day of the Dead abound in all of Michoacán but the best of what is to be had is in the market in the main plaza of Pátzcuaro. Preparations include major cleaning and repair of the local cemeteries and the creation of flowered arches for gates of the atriums of local churches. These are made with a flower called cempasúchil, related to the chrysanthemum. In the early morning of November 1, the "velación de la angelitos" (wake for the little angels) honours children who have died during the previous year, is held in the local cemeteries, and children run around town "stealing" ears of corn, squash and chayotes from the roofs of neighbours’ houses. The stolen food is brought to the community centre to be cooked to feed the community.

The celebration culminates at midnight on November 2, which begins the "velación de los difuntos" (wake for the deceased) when again the towns gather in local cemeteries. This time men remain outside. Women and children enter to lay offerings of flowers and food, generally laid on embroidered napkins. Then prayers and chants are recited. For this reason Day of the Dead is usually referred to in Patzcuaro as Night of the Dead. When daylight comes, a collection of food is taken for the parish priest and most people go to mass.

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