Dia de los Muertos is a fall celebration in Latin America dedicated to welcoming the return of the dead. Ooooh don’t be scared, its really quite beautiful. In fact, I am so in love with the traditions of Day of the Dead as opposed to the gore of Halloween that I vow to never “Trick or Treat” again (yes I am 45). Even though they are both harvest celebrations and share many similarities in theory, I totally love that Mexico’s Day of the Dead isn’t scary or fear based. It’s all about family, humor, love, festivity and honor. Rather than wearing spooky costumes & carving pumpkins to scare away spirits and all of the other frightening traditions that Halloween has morphed into; families in Mexico invite the dead to stay for a feast and have a party! Woop Woop! No tricks just treats! For it is the only time of year when the gates of heaven open up and allow the dead to return to earth for a quick visit!!! The dead are greeted with flowers, candles, photographs, fruits, toys for the children, dinners, and maybe some of their other favorite things. It might be a pack of Marlboros, a deck of poker cards, her favorite lipstick and even Mezcal, if thats what they like!
To see, if only a small portion of traditional Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico, we headed to Tijuana for the day with “Pancho & The Boss” (pictured above with Beva the Zebra). Shhh she doesn’t know she is really a painted donkey.
The Boss (aka Amber Flowers) is wearing a traditional Mexican gauze dress that we purchased locally. We chose orange because orange represents the marigolds (cempazuchil) that attracts the dead to the altars. We also chose it because orange is fall! Come fall everyone flocks to orange. Suddenly it is everywhere; pumpkins, autumn leaves & the glow of campfires have us embracing orange. Orange is enthusiastic, inviting and it stimulates the appetite! Face it, there is nothing bad you can say about orange. Well, fashionably speaking it had its hey day in the 70’s and although you may opt out of getting an orange carpet with an orange sofa and matching orange curtains, as soon as October approaches the orange/fall wardrobe desire strikes. Finally, one can wear a long orange dress and perfectly rustic brown leather wooden platforms (Hecho en Mexico of course) and embrace the change of seasons without looking like an inmate in the state penitentiary.
OK I’m ranting I know… its just that Im feeling really passionate right now with a severe case of the warm and fuzzies. Maybe I’ve had too much orange…or perhaps its the Mescal (that was served with an orange). Either way I love this holiday!
Pictured above Amber drops flower petals on the ground in honor of the Mexican tradition of creating carpets with a mosaic of dried flower petals, colored sawdust and other natural materials during religious holidays.
Mexican religious holidays always include traditional dishes & festive foods. Market places are energized as families and businesses prep for the holiday with seasonal displays of exotic spices and rainbows of colorful produce, thus we headed to my favorite place in Tijuana, El Mercado Hidalgo. Mercado Hidalgo is Tijuana’s historic open-air market that appeals to all your senses. Approximately 80 vendors are centered around a chapel and a parking lot which hosts elaborate holiday displays.
Plan on spending a couple of hours here roaming through the maze of produce and homemade sweets while interacting with the welcoming vendors who are happy to practice their English on you. The people are genuine and the prices are plenty affordable that even the toughest haggler will surrender his sparring match and gladly pay the low prices.
During Dia de los Muertos a symphony of decorative paper flags rise from the center of the parking lot which features a massive altar covered with marigolds & offerings in anticipation of the souls returning. Framed photographs of the departed, candy skulls and seasonal fruits are placed on the altar with generosity and good humor.
Skeletons dressed in clothing that feature the hobbies, occupations or characteristics of deceased loved ones poke fun at the inevitable and clearly show the Mexican cultures acceptance and relationship with death.
Mui fashionable are the lady skeletons with the large fancy hats called Katrinas. Katrina’s are inspired after upper-class Spanish women and I must say the dresses these slender skeletal ladies wear is all I want for Christmas (size 4 please). Talk about fashion inspo! Minus the fact that the ones pictured above are made out of paper mache and not velvet or dupioni silk, I can see myself in any one of them..strutting the catwalk for my favorite label…(ok maybe next life). But I do think the black & white outfit would be perfect for my upcoming art show.
I love watching the children at Mercado Hidalgo with painted faces and starry eyes selecting sugar skulls and candied trinkets to place on the altars to welcome back their ancestors. Sugar skulls are intricate little folk-art forms decorated with dyed sugar and colored foil. Pinatas in all shapes and sizes greet you at the entrances to the candy stores that sell Mexican sweets by the pound. Lets just say, if Willy Wonka (bless his soul) were a Mexican, I would expect to see Oompa Loompas helping customers with their selections of which chile & salt covered lollipop to purchase (tamarindo is my favorite). Hey, maybe Willy will make a guest appearance.
Store owners set up altars in their shops such as the one below during the week leading up to Dia de los Muertos. I too will be making an altar with marigolds, incense and chocolates in hopes that my grandpa will pay me a visit. I might need to add some Johnny Walker Black Label Scotch to the list of gifts in order to lure him out of heaven for the day.
There are so many cool things to see and taste at the Mercado Hidalgo that my camera and my mouth were at war fighting for my attention. I’m a foodie, but in this case… my camera wins.
It was a wonderful day at the market where preparations for the honored ‘out-of-town’ guests begin, but we also wanted to see where the actual celebration Dia de los Muertos takes place…the cemetery.
Flower vendors and trucks selling marigolds galore are on every corner in Tijuana. We purchased a bouquet of 15 large sunflowers and some marigolds (for only $3.00 USD) to place on some lonely gravestones as we wondered around.
Attention Gringos: There is nothing scary about this cemetery, not even at night. It is like a Sunday in the park. There are musicians, children running around, families picnicking with Mexican blankets spread out on the lawn while they adorn the grave sites with their gifts. Upon entry we were asked not to take pictures without permission so out of respect we kept our shots to a minimum and just took it all in.
We divide our time between California and our beach house located just outside of Rosarito Beach in Baja California Mexico. We have a great appreciation for the culture and love to share information about Mexican food, travel & fashion with our fellow gringos from the states.
We are available for all your photo needs throughout the country or the US. Message us, (our Spanish isn’t too bad).
Photographs & story: Heather Van Gaale @photohussy
Male Model: Andrew Hussey @andrewthehussey
Female Model: Amber Flowers @ambersflowers
Mercado Hidalgo: Corner of Blvd Sanchez Taboada & Independencia Tijuana Mexico