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Days of the Dead in Michoacán

Mexico’s Days of the Dead coincide with the Christian All Souls and All Saints Day, November 1 and November 2.

pg14Deceased loved ones are remembered, their pictures placed on family altars and special food and drink offered for the souls of the departed. Some 25 years ago, I was invited to help prepare tamales for these holidays in a small Michoacan pueblo. I heard voices singing in Purepeche, the language of the older people of Angahuan, on that chilly morning. Wooden houses with steeply peaked roofs were barely visible in the thick mist lying on the pine-covered hills of Angahuan. It was the Dia de los Angelitos, and Lupita invited us to admire the garments she had made for her three-year-old daughter, who had died of pneumonia. It is believed that the little angels, having lived too short a time to fall into sin, go straight to heaven.

On a rough pine table the child’s clothing was laid out: a tiny embroidered blouse and fine huipil decorated with cross stitching which had taken Lupita a month to weave and embroider, a dark skirt, and an indigo rebozo (shawl) with the ends crossed in front.

Lupita’s child would have been dressed almost like the adults of Angahuan, except for the addition of a tiny pair of plastic shoes. I doubt they were hers when she lived; most Purepecha women and girls go barefoot. The mother graciously accepted my offering of earrings to complete the ensemble. Outside of Lupita’s house, an enormous copper kettle of maize was boiling, softening the corn to be made into masa, dough for tamales. Tamales are prepared for the dead, and for those who come to celebrate their lives.

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