Day of the Dead a lively celebration in Mexico

Travel

(CNN) — The Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, celebrates and honors deceased loved ones through a variety of different traditions: altars with photographs, sprays of orange marigolds, revelers with faces painted with intricate makeup, a slew of parades and parties, representations of human skeletons and skulls (calacas and calaveras) and various offerings (ofrendas) along roads and in graveyards.

The tradition is enmeshed with indigenous identity in Mexico, going on for thousands of years during the annual maize harvest, which was the primary crop in the country.

At the heart of Día de los Muertos is family, love and remembrance.

And if you’ve never witnessed it in person, we promise it’s something you must experience to truly feel its power and poignance. It’s no wonder then, that the Día de los Muertos holiday was added to UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2008.

What better place to celebrate than the destination of San Miguel de Allende — itself a UNESCO World Heritage site? This picturesque town in north central Mexico, known for its pristine, colorful Colonial and Spanish architecture, is also a magnet for expats and artists.
San Miguel’s Día de los Muertos festivities are a four-day-long celebration of history and family, arts and culture, food and frolic referred to as La Calaca.

On November 1, costumed revelers with calaveras, or skulls, painted on their faces, slowly snake through the cobblestone streets of San Miguel, ending at Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, the 17th-century cathedral in the town’s main square. This ancient tradition — a mix of Aztec and Christian modalities — has been celebrated throughout Central America and Mexico for thousands of years.

Despite the timing, the Day of the Dead is not directly connected with Halloween. Their calendar adjacency, however, might relate to the growing popularity of Día de los Muertos events, particularly in the U.S.

The 2017 Pixar film “Coco,” set in a fictional Mexican town during Día de los Muertos, won two Academy Awards and intensified obsession with the holiday. Outside of the film and in true American style, it’s become a bit of a commercial juggernaut.

Sugar skulls go on sale. Makeup artists are booked. Retailer Party City sells Day of the Dead costumes and decorations. Even Target has a collection of Día de los Muertos merchandise.

Regardless of how or where or why the holiday is celebrated, visiting Mexico at this time of year is a true privilege.

Witnessing the love and care and beauty that true believers pour into their altars and shrines, seeing the photographs of dearly-departed loved ones bathed in orange marigolds and orange candle light, participating in a parade or watching from the sidelines, is magical and transforming. It’s a singularly moving trip that any passionate traveler would treasure for life.

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