Monday, November 5, 2012

Día de Muertos in Maltrata

I spent the Día de Muertos long weekend in Maltrata, my first visit back since May for my little buddy's birthday. I never get tired of the beautiful view of the mountains driving into Maltrata (though fortunately I've more or less gotten used to the speeding cars and buses on the curvy roads leading into Maltrata).

view from the bus arriving in Maltrata 

view from the bus arriving in Maltrata 

view from the bus arriving in Maltrata

I've been in Mexico for a de Muertos the past two years and enjoyed visiting the altars, offerings and celebrations in the UNAM, Coyoacán, Mixquic and the Zócalo. However, these are public places and, while they do celebrate Día de Muertos, they tend to make it more into a spectacle to be visited and photographed. Being in Maltrata allowed me to see how Día de Muertos is celebrated within a family setting.

Día de Muertos combines prehispanic beliefs and traditions with Catholicism's All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day. It is believed that the souls' of those departed are allowed to return and visit with the family. My Maltrata family explained that it begins on October 28th, when the souls of people who died in accidents return (which I hadn't heard before and I'm not sure if that belief is held throughout Mexico). October 30th is when the souls of unbaptized children return (once again, this was new to me and I'm not sure if it's the same in all parts of Mexico). I knew that November 1st is for children and November 2nd is for adults, but my Maltrata family explained that it's a bit more specific: the souls' of children return to their family from 12pm on October 31st until 12pm on November 1st and the souls' of adults return to their family from 12pm on November 1st to 12pm on November 2nd.

Día de Muertos altar in Maltrata
The family makes an altar, where the soul will return. It usually have multiple levels, traditionally 7. Typical elements of the altar include flowers (marigolds, white flowers, and a pinkish/purple flower I don´t know the name of), candles, papel picado (the colorful paper cut into designs), incense, salt, water, food and drink (including foods and/or drinks that the deceased enjoyed). According to my Maltrata family, some typical foods/drinks for the altar are tamales, bread (especially pan cargado and pan de muerto with pieces on top representing bones and a skull), chocolate (like hot chocolate), manjar (kind of like a thick pudding, made with milk, rice and sugar) and pumpkin. On Thursday (November 1), the family was busy preparing various foods (chicken, manjartamales, chocolate) and continued adding to the altar throughout the day. The food is added to the altar right after the food is prepared, while it is still hot, and always served on a new plate/bowl/cup. It is also common to include a photo of the deceased person on the altar, though my Maltrata family does not.

It is also typical to include a pathway made of marigolds from the door to the altar so that the souls can find their way.
Axel and Megan "helping" fix the path
Here's a photo of another altar in Maltrata. If you notice, this one does inclue photographs (2 in the back).

another altar in Maltrata 
At 12pm on November 2nd the souls leave the altar and the family. Up until this time only the veladoras (the candles in the glass containers that are used for prayers, religious purposes) were lit. At 12pm on the 2nd, the (regular?) candles are lit. Many people go to the cemetery at that time to visit the grave of the deceased (now that their soul is no longer in the house). Mama Juanita had gone earlier that morning to clean off the grave and leave flowers, preparing for the souls' return. 

After 12pm the family begins to dismantle the altar, including eating the food (although I had heard that some people don't eat the food because the souls had already consumed the essence/ flavor / nutritional value). 

Halloween has exerted its influence in Maltrata as well. Some of the kids got their faces painted to pedir calaverita, similar to trick-or-treat, receiving sweets or coins.

the vampire, the little witch, and the skeleton 

2 vampires and a skeleton

And of course a visit to Maltrata wouldn´t be complete without my little buddies. They're getting so big!!

Alex, almost 11 months old

Axel, almost 2 1/2 years old 

I also went to a despedida de soltera biblica, or a Biblical Bachelor/Bachelorette ceremony, where the couple was presented with various objects representing blessings, advice and wishes for their marriage. For example a sewing kit to mend mistakes; a plant, which like their marriage, needs daily attention and care; and cleaning supplies, with the reminder to never let their relationship gather dust. I was designated the official photographer for the event (hah! I'm sure those who don't know me were a bit confused), so while I took a lot of photos, I don't have any on my camera to share.

After the despedida was the velada, which is basically the party the day before the wedding. It's become the norm in Maltrata to include all the wedding traditions both at the velada and the wedding, which seems a bit redundant to me. The wedding was Saturday night, but I left Maltrata that afternoon.

It's always good to be back in Maltrata! I'll leave you with a photo I snapped on the bus heading out of town: in the foreground a place where tabique (brickis made (Maltrata's typical though declining industry), the church, and los cumbres de Maltrata (the peaks of Maltrata).


  1. Hi, I'm actually planning a trip to visit my boyfriend who is living in Mexico City for work until the end of the year during dia de muertos and wanted to get your input ...only going to be there fri-mon so trying to pack as much in as possible. The must dos. I definitely would like to take the trajineras thru the canals and see la llorona performed...I hope to find the pancake guy, too which I found thru your blog!! During this particular weekend do a lot of people walk around with their faces painted?? I'd like to do this but wasn't sure if it really was a popular thing to do. Any other tip etc would be great!! I really can't wait for this trip, so excited

  2. That's exciting you'll be visiting Mexico City! There's so much to see and do - especially for Day of the Dead. Hang tight - I'm working on a post with suggestions! :)