The sun fades as young people walk the path under the trees. Candles are being lit here and there. Each new light brightens the space around it, which shines with a different color. Orange chrysanthemums, turquois and purple skulls. A cross of white sea salt rests on the ground, next to a jet black dog. As the sky darkens, more candles are lit, reflecting colors onto the under-side of the branches.
November begins in Mexico with the Dia de Los Muertos. The ceremonies of ‘the Day of the Dead’ are meant to coax the spirits of loved ones to return, and spend time with those who remember them. Altares (Alters) offer a chance for the spirits to be guided back to us, and give those in this world a way to express their love through the many details involved in making the Altares.
Students from Puerto Penascos’ Cobach (similar to a junior college in the states), take part in the annual Altares building workshop and contest. Dozens of students and their families learn in great detail this very special part of Mexican culture, then present their labors of love to the publlic.
As judges take notes, family members demonstrate the depth of their knowledge of the traditions of Dia de Los Muertos, some dressed as Calveras or Catrinas. Common elements include the smoke of insense, a black dog who will be there to guide the spirit from the other world, and water for spirits thirsty from their long journey.
Mixed with the ceremonial neccesities are many personal touches. The guitar Grandmother played. A baseball jersey. Tequila pored and waiting. Every real thing is attached to a story. The hat pulled from it’s resting place in the back of the closet begins to emit memories. From the memory, comes stories. Sharing them is how the ones we remember come back.