Yesterday, I shared my experience attending the Día de Los Muertos event at the Eiteljorg. Today I’m sharing our conversation with Indy Reads student, Fortino Martinez, who told us about how he celebrates the holiday.
Fortino is from the city of Ciudad Valles in the state of San Luis Potosí, Mexico. The city is in the Huasteca Potosina region, close to Central Mexico. He told us that celebrations of Día de Los Muertos in his region are different than in the United States in a few ways:
In Fortino’s region, people celebrate Xantolo, a traditional harvest festival that begins October 30th and ends November 2nd. It is believed that on November 1st, the spirits of children return and adults return on November 2nd. Families travel to cemeteries on October 31st and spend the whole day there and bring food and drinks as offerings.
To celebrate the returning spirits, members of the community make arches out of flexible tree branches and drape them with strings of cempasuchil, or Mexican marigolds. Tables decorated with brightly colored fabrics and candles, featured photos of loved ones who’ve passed on, along with their favorite food and drinks.
Mandarins are in season in Mexico during this time, so they are also placed in the arches and on tables, along with sweetbreads, water, and colorful sugar skulls. Another colorful feature on the altar tables includes papel picado, which is paper cut into decorative shapes. Many of the decorations feature Catrina, the female skeleton symbol of Día de Los Muertos. The arches, which can be simple or extravagant, may be displayed inside or outside.
Another aspect of the Xantolo celebration is traditional dancing and costumes. Groups of dancers dressed in costume to represent the dead dance to traditional music in the town square. Men dress up as old women and women dress up as old men. The groups compete against each other for the best costumes, and the entire community comes out to watch the performance.
“I like the arches and I like to watch this kind of dancing,” Fortino said.
Celebrations in the city are different than in small towns.
“For example, in the city, they do only the show in front of the main building of the city.”
Fortino doesn’t celebrate the holiday in the US, but has fond memories of participating in the festival in Mexico. He said, “In my city, it’s a tradition. In the small, small towns around my city, people still speak native languages and dialects. The young people in the city dance and go from house to house and they can stay all day dancing. In this season they make a lot of tamales. When people come to your home, you feed them. They make a lot of food in their homes for people who come to visit. It’s much better in a small town because you can eat a lot. You can go to from home to home, eating tamales. Other thing they do, they go to the cemetery. They stay there all day and bring flowers and candles.”
Lydia Johnson is the Operations Manager for Indy Reads. She’s a writer originally from Gary, Indiana who loves tea, poetry, and the arts.