I have read that Dia de los Muertos is more comparable to Thanksgiving than to Halloween, but my experience hasn’t confirmed this. Indeed, walking through Guanajuato last night around 11:00 PM, the town didn’t have the quiet-American-holiday feel to it. No. No. No. Guanajuato was seething. The music was loud and the bars were overflowing. There was a cantankerous, rebellious vibe in the air. Yes, there were fewer people on the sidewalks because a lot of families were at the cemetery, but those who were on the streets were either drunk or high.
All the educated conjectures on the meaning and overall thrust of Dia de los Muertos are still purely speculative. So far, the holiday has not left an impression anywhere near my expectations. Yes, there are a few teenagers and little kids walking around with their faces painted as skulls. Most of the paintings are amateur at best. There are a few theatrical souls with costumes and face paint that’s stunning but even the Mexican population here follows them around with cameras flashing, they’re such a rarity.
It’s always disappointing to find out that the National Geographic Traveler magazine sensationalized something. If National Geographic doesn’t report honestly anymore, there’s no point in reading any travel-related magazine. I think that Dia de Muertos has a dark underbelly that we don’t really discuss too loudly in the United States. I’m cool with that, but I just wish for honest portrayals of far-off places. Isn’t the truth more interesting anyway?
Last night was the first time we’ve actually seen evidence of gangs here. There is, after all, a tenuous connection between Santa Muerte, Jesus Malverde, and Day of the Dead. Yes, there are lovely sugar skulls and Catarina dolls all over the place too. And there are kids out trick-or-treating (but they say “calaveritas”, I think, instead
of “trick-or-treat”). A few people are wearing face paint. But Guanajuato is not a Day of the Dead Party Zone. It’s more of a Day of the Dead Dead Zone.
From my understanding, Day of the Dead festivities are mostly private, at-home activities anyway. They’re for family’s eyes only, much like Thanksgiving and Christmas in the United States. The real meat of Thanksgiving (no pun intended) is the turkey and dysfunctional family dynamics over dinner. We could invite tourists into our homes to watch us do our quiet little family “celebrations”, but most of the drama of our holidays has to do with familial relationships that are either going well (“so glad to see you!”), or suffering dramatically (“if only so-n-so wasn’t going to be there…”). That stuff is more interesting to psychotherapist than tourists.
But then again, we haven’t hit the Mummy Museum (Museo de las Mommias) yet. Apparently, the Mummy Museum is under the graveyard where locals sit and call to the dead with candles and marigolds during the Day of the Dead celebration. The Mummy Museum is only about a 3 minute walk, two beatings, and a rape away from our vacation rental. We have to go the long route (it’s about 1 ½ miles straight uphill) to “safely” reach the place because angry, bored, loitering men hang out in the streets between here and there. Maybe there will be something really amazing going on there tonight (November 2nd, 2013). Maybe we just haven’t been in the right place at the right time, yet.