The scent of copal incense fills the air. It smells like Festival of Life and Death Tradition, it smells like Xcaret. The scene that welcomes you is stunning – that’s Mexico: color, textures, smells, diversity.
The usually friendly faces at Xcaret are painted as skulls to celebrate their annual festival in honor of the dead and celebration of the living. The stunning works of art upon their faces are not scary at all but rather a gorgeous representation of a country’s rich tradition.
Cempasuchitl mark the way
The grounds are decorated with bright yellow marigolds, the traditional flower of the Day of the Dead. The cempasuchitl flower represents life and hope and it is believed to mark the way for the dearly departed to return to the land of the living.
The evening promises to be one filled with dances, shows, spectacles, exhibitions, games all making shine the traditions of Mexico.
A holiday for the senses
Immediately upon entering you see the pathways lined with candles and flowers, decorations for you and for the souls who come back just one more time – every year – for a little fun, for a little hot chocolate, for a little torta de cochinita.
The souls have good taste and the food at the Festival of Life and Death Tradition is a staple and a must when visiting Cancun-Riviera Maya during the end of October, beginning of November. From the traditional Day of the Dead bread to tamales to the invited state’s traditional food. For the 12th Edition of the Festival, Yucatan’s seasoning filled the air.
It’s not a costume
And just like the Day of the Dead bread is a must, so it’s painting your face like a calaverita or skull. The reasons are now lost in time and translation. Some believe we paint our faces to mock death and tell her we’re not afraid of her. Others believe that it is a way to trick death, as it is believed that the veil that separates the land of the living from the dead is thinner during All Saint’s Day and All Souls’ Day. Whatever the reason, the Catrina face-painting is a ritual that’s done with respect for an ancient tradition.
It’s as old as time
The Day of the Dead has its origins from pre-Hispanic civilizations from 2,500 to 3,000 years ago, long before the Spaniards conquered Mexico. That celebration took place in the 9th month of the Aztec calendar (about August in today’s calendar) and lasted the whole month. Today, homes, cities and communities all over Mexico and Latin America celebrate this rich tradition but styles and customs differ by region, depending on the region’s predominant pre-Hispanic culture.
In the Yucatan Peninsula, the celebration is heavily influenced by the Mayan and the region celebrates Hanal (Janal) Pixan which means “food for the souls”. It is the Mayan phrase that describes the traditional food offered to the dearly departed.
It’s a treasure
In 2008, UNESCO recognized the importance of Dia de los Muertos by adding the holiday to its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. It’s difficult for me to describe its magic but all I can say is that it is rich… in color, in taste, in hope.
The holiday celebrates the loving connection between the living and our departed loved ones. It is magical and moving to see the intricate and loving altars, the beautifully painted skull faces, grounds decorated by bright yellow, marigold flowers, smell the fragrant sweet bread and delicious meals all to share with those whom we miss on our earthly lives.