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The Daunting Day of the Dead in Mexico

Written by: Becky Khalil

Zombies and Monsters, Oh My!

Halloween is the only time of the year when walking around with fake blood pouring down your face, a screwdriver coming out of your neck, and wearing clothes that would make your grandmother faint is acceptable.
We all celebrate Halloween by dressing up like zombies or dead people or anything at all that reminds us of death. But how would you feel about exchanging Halloween in the UK for Day of the Dead in Mexico?

Ever since I was a little girl I have always treated Halloween much as everybody else, dressing up and making pumpkin sculptures. This year, however, I was in Chamula, an indigenous community in Mexico, during Day of the Dead.
Although not exactly the same holiday, and of course taking place in different parts of the world, Halloween and Day of the Dead are both an annual event to mark the passing away of human life.
While thousands of people were walking the streets in the UK dressed like zombies, I witnessed for the first time the purer sentiment that pervades the communities of Mexico.

Colourful graveyards

Situated in the highlands, Chamula is a small indigenous town 20 minutes outside of San Cristobal in Southern Mexico. Chamula offers a view of lush green hills, an atmosphere of peace, the intriguing typical dress of local Tzotzil Mayaculture and a graveyard as colourful as a rainbow.

To avoid being too morbid, the graveyard where people stand to remember their loved ones was decorated in brightly coloured flowers that were displayed in a careful and cheerful manner. While I was there it was filled with several five piece Mexican bands standing with nothing but pride, playing songs from memory, while locals repeatedly bowed down to where their loved ones lie. The only vibe that filled the air was honour, respect, and peace.

Day of the dead or a day full of life?

With little chat but large significance, Chamula demonstrates what the true concept of honouring a life really means.  The main square was full of traditionally dressed men, the candle lit church bustled with visitors showing their respect, the floor was coated in pine needles, and the bell was continuously ringing to mark this special day.

Being in Chamula for Day of the Dead was quite an experience. Astounded and speechless at the difference in celebration from my own country, I started to wonder what the other traditions around the world may be to celebrate the life of another. The cheery music creating the atmosphere, the colourful flowers brightening the day and the friendly locals sharing their sentiment made the day feel like a day of living instead of a day of the dead.  It is truly a way of ensuring that those who have ‘gone before’ are not forgotten, and of honouring their memory.

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