Craft of a different kind: Patzcuaro’s Mexican Day of the Dead Celebration

If you find yourself drinking craft spirits at this year’s Halloween party, why not share some fun facts about actual spirits and crafts with your costumed colleagues?

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El Día de Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, is celebrated around the world, but no other country places such a high importance on it as Mexico. If you happen to be walking around Mexico towards the end of October, you’ll begin to see altars with skulls and offerings to the dead popping up everywhere in preparation for the festivities beginning on All Hallow’s Eve (October 31st) and running through to All Soul’s Day (November 2nd). 

Perhaps “festivities” is too strong of a term. At its foundation, the celebration from an outsider’s perspective sounds rather somber in that Mexican families congregate in cemeteries equipped with the remembrances of their deceased relatives and hang out by said relatives’ graves. In reality, it is a more pleasant occasion as those families place the favourite items of their dead on their gravestones while sitting around to chat and keep their familial spirits company for a while. In a number of towns

El Día de Muertos can be traced back by some estimates almost 3,000 years and continued through the Aztec empire in various forms. Today, November 1st is dedicated to honouring dead children and infants by putting toys and the like on their graves whereas the following day remembers adults with bottles of tequila and mexcal. 

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If Mexico is the country to be in to witness El Día de Muertos, then Patzcuaro is the Mexican town of choice. Sitting on the edge of a large lake in the state of Michoacan about 400 kilometres west of Mexico City, Patzcuaro is an attractive mixture of colonial and indigenous architecture and is home to the region’s largest crafts market. Villagers come from all around to hawk their wares with a large crafts competition begin organized for the Day of the Dead. Visitors to Patzcuaro will be sure to find little artesanal treasures that they can take back home with them to help remember their own deceased.

As the sun sets, the town lights up as candles are lit for the dead in the cemeteries and all around town. The lighting of the candles begins an all-night vigil that ends at sunrise the following day. Some create floats lined with candles that push off from the edge of the lake, making the water sparkle with the souls of the dead. 

As you finish your martini this Halloween and begin to remove your skeleton costumer, remember that in some parts of the world, your fellow humans are toasting their actual deceased and remembering them sometimes with actual skulls.