Halloween is my favorite holiday of the year, there is no gift-giving or family obligations, the only thing that is required is to be spooky and have fun.
I was raised in a border town in the North of Mexico, therefore I grew up knowing all about Halloween and going for "triki-triki" on the 31st. But in the rest of Mexico the ancient ritual of the Day of the Dead is celebrated on November 1st and 2nd.
I have several storage boxes full of Halloween decorations collected throughout the years, but this is the first year I make a Day of the Dead altar to celebrate my ancestors. But first let me show my Halloween decorations, unfortunately half of it is in storage with my Mom, but I least I got some stuff out.
OK, now to the juicy part, my altar, on the first pic you may notice the bottom part of the garden window contains the altar, in the pics below I will explain each part of it. This ritual has been practiced in Mexico since the time of the Aztecs and it was one of those rituals that the Spanish could not eradicate so it was incorporated into Catholic rituals. This time of year people flock to the cemeteries to visit the graves of their relatives, they clean the gravestones, take flowers, have a nice afternoon picnic, take music and honor the dead.
This ritual exemplifies how we view death, not as an ending, but as the next step. Many cultures venerate their ancestors and believe they are with us to help, protect and guide. The Day of the Dead altars are very personal and usually very colorful, this is my first one, next year it will be better.
I'll explain my altar by parts, on the pic below we see several items:
- The photograph features my Dad and his four brothers, of which three have passed away as well. It is one of the few photos of them together, so the altar also acknowledges my uncles.
- The sugar skull represents people who have passed, this one is for my Aunt Mica who passed away earlier this year. The skull is made of hardened sugar decorated with icing, it is hard and can last for years as long as it does not get wet.
- Next to the photo is a traditional bread baked only in this time of year. They are sold sweet sprinkled with sugar or savory with sesame seeds on top. These breads are edible and I bought one for me and one for the altar. It is tradition to have some of the deceased relatives favorite foods on the altar, I've been told that once the celebrations are over the foods from the altar have no taste, the spirits took it. I don't think I'll be sampling this bread on Nov 3rd.
- The lady skull on the pink matchbox is known as La Calavera Catrina, a zinc etching by Mexican artist Jose Guadalupe Posada done in 1910 and now a staple when it comes to the Day of the Dead decorations.
- The purple votive holder just looked cool and it holds a flame-less tea light.
- The cat in the photo is Simba, my first cat in the US, he was such a rascal!
- The three small robed skeletons in red, black and white represent the cult of la Santa Muerte, there are several interpretations and ways of worshiping, but in themselves they are supposed to protect against harm.
- That's my Dad, he passed away 3 1/2 years ago and this picture is from the early 70's in the apartment they lived in when I was born. I do have many more photos, but I liked this one.
- The beer next to him is the Mexican beer Tecate, his favorite.
- Wondering about the Brylcreem? It was the only hair grooming cream he used, since I can remember he's been using that brand. As the years went by it became more and more difficult to find it, as well as more expensive. I was lucky to find it and now it will be a staple in my altar.
And this is how my altar looks at night with the flame-less candles.
As I mentioned before, altars are very personal, colorful and full of meaning. Each year altars are placed in Chicano Park and Old Town in San Diego, CA. Last year I went to both events and took some video, one of the ladies from a museum gave a very good explanation about the meaning of the holiday.
And in case you didn't know, we have many haunted places in San Diego, back from the time this was the wild wild west. This is a video from a tour I took at the Cosmopolitan Hotel, very cool stories!