In Oaxaca, when I visited there, the five days at the end of October/early November were deeply moving, personal connections with those who have died... Day(s) of the Dead. One day for children, one day for old people, one day for those murdered, and the like. On this, their special day, the spirits can return to visit the living.
Homes each had a specially prepared altar with memorabilia of the departed (their actual skulls, back when the Spanish first arrived--but the Conquistadores put a stop to that, so now you see small sugar-skulls with a nametag pasted on, instead). Offerings of the departed's favorite foods are placed there, as well.
It is a happy time. And marigold petals are scattered from the "offrenda" in the house, out the door and all the way to the gravesite when feasible. The spirits can smell the fragrance of marigold and thus find their way back home...
And their graves? They were the scene of celebration! Music, feasting, and celebrating on this one time in the year when all are reunited. All night long, the cemeteries are scenes of laughter, and happiness.
The most touching memory I have -- was when one of the Durango high school students I was shepherding around noticed a lone woman, perhaps in her 60s or more, sitting quietly on the cement grave covering of her departed husband. The young girl approached the woman, and as she did so, the woman's face lit up with joy and she held out her arms to welcome her. "Sit, sit..." she said in Spanish. As the young girl sat beside her, the woman gently reached out to hold her hand in a gentle but firm embrace... The young girl reported feeling such love pouring from the woman's heart. They sat like that, holding hands together, for quite some time.... til the woman felt fulfilled, I guess. In her heart... in that woman's heart... her lost beloved husband had come to her, through the guise of the young woman.
It is an ancient custom and it is primarily Oaxacan. Our villagers, here in the state of Guerrero, only passingly acknowledge the Day of the Dead (mostly simply putting flowers on graves -- I have not noticed an offrenda in any home, nor do they stage parties at the gravesites) And the days that fall on weekdays are holidays in town, such as today.
But they cannot escape the commercialism of America's bedraggled Halloween. The trappings of our Halloween are everywhere, and "Trick or Treat" is the theme of the day. They know nothing (nor do most Americans) of the Celtic origins of the tradition -- a tradition not that different from Day of the Dead. For the Celts there is that one day when the veil is thin and spirits can pass through. Ah, the tales I tell and most favorite is from the epic of Finn McCool. But I digress.
SO! Once again, knowing kids would be coming for sweets, we decorated our ramada with black and orange crepe, put on some sort of frightening attire that scares small children -- and sat beside a big bowl filled with American candies. It is always a delightful time of play with costumed kids and costumed gringos! (pictures posted when I return.. probably inserted here) Our house was always the most active, and favorite destination.
BUT!!! This year, we were trumped, and happy to know of it. Across our road, and down a short way, is a huge two-story cement house (built to house multiple families of the same lineage... that is to say, married brothers and married sisters each with their own families). Only one such family has moved in to a section of the ground floor so far...
....which leaves the entire upstairs available for a Ghost-House of Horrors!! We didn't get to visit it, being busy at our own place, but I was delighted to hear the screams and screeches as the kids explored room to room and got scared by ghosts and goblins. At least that is what we think was happening.
And all is well, and all manner of thing is well, and the waves delight, and the fruit trees abound, and friendships warm the heart.