Skulls, masks and dancers as Mexico fetes Day of the Dead

Dancers in indigenous costumes pranced down a broad avenue followed by a float bearing the 20-foot-tall likeness of the goddess Mictecacihuatl, announced as “the queen of the underworld and the guardian of our bones,” crowned by a red feather headdress and cradling a skull in her right hand.

Two dozen people clad head-to-toe in mud-colored makeup with animal masks walked stiffly behind, representing the nine levels of Mictlan, or the underworld.

Crowds lined Mexico City’s stately Paseo de la Reforma as the capital capped Day of the Dead celebrations Saturday with a parade along the boulevard and through the historic colonial center to the Zocalo, or main square, where a large altar was set up in recent days.

It was the culmination of over two weeks of massively attended public activities in the city, from a procession of colorful sculptures known as “alebrijes” to an homage to the widely beloved and recently deceased crooner José José, as well as private visits to family gravesites and home altars honoring the departed.

“I think it is one of the good things that we should appreciate,” said Marco Antonio Cárdenas, a 58-year-old lawyer and Mexico City resident whose family puts up an altar each year. “With all the problematic things there are at a national and international level, I think these kinds of events that make a positive contribution and in a way represent us as a people in our culture, I think it’s very good.”

According to the Department of Culture, the parade comprised more than 2,500 performers in “artistic projects,” allegorical floats and dance groups, and planners were expecting crowds of up to 2 million.

As an intermittent drizzle turned into a steady, chilly rain, the parade’s announcer invoked the good favor of the Aztec god of rain: “Tlaloc, do us justice!” she cried. Most spectators stayed put, unfurling umbrellas and plastic ponchos.

Many had their faces painted at sidewalk stands as vendors sold synthetic flower bouquets, “lucha libre” masks and other wares. The boulevard’s planters were full of marigolds, the orange flower associated with Day of the Dead.

Mixed among the crowd were plenty of tourists, including Scarlett Fox, a 33-year-old veterinary clinic manager, and Eric Bray, a 39-year-old ad agency video producer, who planned their week-and-a-half trip from Atlanta to be in Mexico City for the festivities.

The married couple said Day of the Dead celebrations are getting more popular back home, and the success of the 2017 animated film “Coco” in particular brought the tradition more mainstream exposure in the United States. Fox said she spent the last couple of weeks practicing on herself and even co-workers at their Day of the Dead-themed Halloween party to perfect the rose-and-white skull face paint she wore Saturday. Bray said they found design inspiration on Instagram.

“That was the most amazing parade I think I’ve ever seen,” Fox said. “I get emotional even thinking about it. … It was incredible to see everybody’s costumes. I mean, the attention to detail!”

“Actually I’m half-Mexican but I don’t have any connection to the half of my family that’s Mexican,” she continued. “So I grew up without knowing anything about the culture but really having that curiosity, so for me I’ve always wanted to come here and kind of get to know it.”

Unlike a separate parade the previous weekend that was inspired by the 2015 James Bond movie “Spectre” and borrowed props from the film, Saturday’s was more of a homegrown affair with floats and choreographed routines organized by local groups.

Dancers shook leg rattles and women in white skirts and lavender coats twirled and sashayed up the street, the paint on their faces smeared and runny from the rain. Six people in skullface waved from a float topped by a replica of a “trajinera,” the traditional boats that ply the canals of the southern neighborhood of Xochimilco. A group of “exotic Catrinas” celebrated diversity and inclusion with waving rainbow flags, an entry from the LGBTQ community.

Alejandra Romero, a 42-year-old supervisor of self-service stores in Mexico City, said she and her 15-year-old daughter stumbled upon the parade by accident and decided to stay. She was especially impressed by the 50 or so drummers dressed in black mariachi costumes pounding out a throbbing rhythm toward the end.

Day of the Dead “is a constant reminder of the people we love who have passed away,” Romero said, “and having them in constantly in our thoughts is a beautiful thing.”

Puerto Vallarta News

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