Day of the Dead Celebration in Pátzcuaro, Michoacán

The Day of the Dead in Mexico originated in the prehispanic era, ethnic groups such as the Mexicas, Mayas, Purépechas, Nahuas and Totonacas celebrated it on the ninth month of the Mexica Solar Calendar and was presided by Goddess Mictecacíhuatl (Lady of Death).

The spiritual conquest imposed by the Spaniards produced an interesting religious syncretism. One of the richest demonstrations of this mix is the Night of the Dead, where the Indian concept of death plays with the Christian ideas of the “ever after”.

It was believed that the dead needed food to reach their final destination, so when they died, food, water, offerings and diverse objects were placed next to them. This tradition mixed and adapted to the Christian calendar on the first two days of November. November 1st is All Saints Day, dedicated to the children who have died and the 2nd is in memory of adults. It is believed that the dead return to visit their loved ones on these two days.

Patzcuaro Lake and Janitzio Island are located 60 kilometers from Morelia, capital of Michoacán State. This island is impressive for the beauty of its white buildings and red tile roofs.

The Day of the Dead is a joyful celebration but the Night of the Dead turns somber with the toll of the bells. Everyone starts to appear, dressed in black, carrying offerings, candies and bread to be left on tombstones, where they sit to cry and pray for their dead.

According to legend, Mintzita was the daughter of King Tzintzicha and Itzihuapa was the son of Tare and prince of Janitzio. They were madly in love but their plans to wed were frustrated by the arrival of the conquering Spaniards, who took Mintzita’s father prisoner. Itzihuapa attempted to recover the treasure found on the bottom of the lake in order to exchange it for the freedom of King Tzintzicha, but the young prince was trapped by the souls of the twenty rowers who safeguard the treasure in its depth, turning him into the treasure’s 21st guardian. On the Night of the Dead, all the treasure’s guardians wake up and walk to the island. Princes Mintzita and Itzihuapa go to the cemetery to receive what the living have to offer them.

During the whole night, the cemetery’s bell rings to summon the souls to the great ceremony and all across the island Purepecha songs are heard, begging for the rest of missing souls and the happiness of the living. Participating in this event has been a sacred duty for centuries for the island’s residents.

For those visiting the island on this special night, we recommend enjoying the concert at the Basilica of Our Lady of Health (Basilica de Nuestra Señora de la Salud) and the theater performance of Don Juan Tenorio, at the Franciscan Ex-convent.

The Purepecha are generous and allow foreigners to approach their traditions but the best way to feel part of the community is by taking an offering such as bread, flowers or candles. Michoacán is one of the States with the best crafts and during these celebrations, crafts markets are placed on the streets, open all day and most of the night.

Artículo Producido por el Equipo Editorial Explorando México.
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Foto Portada: Jaec