The day of the dead or “Día de Muertos” is one of my favorite Mexican holidays, celebrated at the beginning of November it’s the time of the year when we welcome our family and friends that are not longer with us; I know “welcome” sounds a little bit weird but it’s the time of the year when they get a “free pass” to visit their families on Earth, and is precisely for this reason why we put on altars to welcome them with things that they used to like, such as their favorite food and music.
This year I attended the Dia de Muertos celebration from the University of Ciudad Juárez for the first time. It was really fun and all of the altars and tombs were amazing; there was an incredible and wide variety of activities, they had performers, mariachi, FOOD (yum) and there were people dressed as “Catrinas” and “Catrines”, which are popular symbols of death and have actually become a popular thing for people to dress up in the US.
When I got to the event, first I became really overwhelmed by the amount of people that was there, tons of people and everyone wanted to see all the altars and tombs, at the same time! It was a little annoying so my friends and I decided to get food before getting to the altar’s part, I was happy because food is part of what makes this holiday on of the best.
There were tons of options to choose from, tamales, tacos, hamburgers, elotes, churros, cake, nachos, espiripapas which are chips in a stick (sort of), and a lot more things. I decided to go first with an elote, it was delicious. There’s two ways you can ask for an elote, either on a stick or in a cup, I went for the stick choice and well besides delicious it was messy, but in a fun way, and well if I am gonna be honest one thing you need to know is if you’re gonna eat Mexican food it is going to be messy.
Here they are prepping the elote (yummi), first they put butter or mayonnaise or both:
Then they add cheese and chile, this last one is optional, but I mean, chile is the best, in my personal opinion:
And finally the elote:
After the elote, one would have thought that me and my friends would be full or at least wait a little bit before eating something else, but no, we headed straight to the tamales stand to eat some. Tamales, hmm how can I describe them, tamales are hmm sort of like an empanada but spongier, good thing I have pictures because I’m really doing a crappy job trying to describe them; anyways, is made with corn flour and they can be filled with meat, chicken, they can be sweet, they can be almost of whatever you can think of, and usually they are wrapped in a corn leaf, but, the ones that we tried were wrapped in banana leaf it gave them a different flavor, really good.
So back to the interesting part, the altars and the tombs. The altars are made for people who already died, they are made to remember them and to welcome them. Putting an altar is an easy thing but it has a set of rules that must be followed in order to prevent the souls of our loved ones to go out and wonder the earthly world (creepy).
So first you’re gonna need candles, to light up the road of your loved ones to go back to the “other side”, then a black dog in order to scare the bad spirits away, salt to give strength to the soul of your dead ones so they don’t go to the dark side during their time here, water well because they get thirsty; the favorite food from whoever your making the altar for, a cross made from ashes to help the soul to leave their remaining sins, a picture of your loved one and clean clothes.
Besides putting on altars, people also put on what we call tombs, this can be made for someone that is already dead or they can be funny, this means that they mock people that are still alive and they usually carry a “calaverita” which is a poem dedicated to the person in question. This are more fun to make and have less intense rules.
At the end we ended up just wondering around, after looking at all the altars and tombs, and during our wondering we found people that were there painting everyone as Catrinas, so we decided to give it a shot. This people were students from the University and were using this activity as practice.
In the end, it was a really good night celebrating, remembering and welcoming all of our recently deceased, famous and not famous. The food was amazing, the company incredible and the music was really good. The altars were really beautiful the students were so creative and innovative, creating murals on the floor with flowers, ashes and salt, and the tombs were really funny and also very creative.
Anyways, if you decide to visit Ciudad Juárez during this time of year next year, I am sure the next “Día de Muertos” from the University of Ciudad Juárez will be as amazing as the one of this year, just take into account, that you should arrive early to find parking space, or just take an Uber.