Saturday, November 3, 2012

Happy Samhain and Dia de los Muertos!

The two Catrinas and Catrin
Minutes, Hours, and Days pass so quickly that they are gone before we even realize the moment was present at all. I have lived here in Terlingua for four and a half years now. I find it difficult to perceive that time has passed at all unless I compare my photo of when I first arrived in Terlingua and a glance in the mirror. There are a few more lines in the face. The hair is grayer and any hint of brown hair is gone. The cowboy hat is still black but black straw instead of black felt (the felt hat collected so much dust that it is now retired to a hook on the bedroom wall).

Living here in this tiny community I have been introduced to cultural items that I would not normally find in the midst of the Appalachian mountains. This evening was a chance I had to experience a Mexican holiday that few people outside of Mexican culture in the U.S. understand. October is the month when the leaves on the trees are turning a full range of colors. Warmer clothes are being brought out from storage to ward off the  increasingly colder temperatures. And that sacred of holidays is celebrated by young and old alike, Halloween. However, the day after most Americans have celebrated trick or treating and costume parties, Mexicans are celebrating El Dia de Los Muertos, or as it is translated, Day of the Dead.

Every year, thousands of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, honor family loved ones and friends that have passed on. The celebration is usually celebrated with a more festive atmosphere than most non-Mexican Americans are accustomed. A cena, or dinner is prepared. Families dress up in their best clothes and then gather around the grave site of their loved one and share their time with their departed family members while sharing a dinner amongst themselves. Gifts or mementos, coins and fresh decorations are sometimes added to the cemetery plot as well. Music is also enjoyed either by recorded music or if members of the group play an instrument then they play and sing.

Oftentimes figures depicting skeletons dressed up in clothes are sold in stores to commemorate this day. People also sometimes dress up in costume with faces painted to appear as skulls with white and black paint. Popular figures seen during this time are the Bride and Groom or most often referred to as Catrina and Catrin.
An celebrant dressed in costume

Most non-Mexican Americans observe death in negative terms whereas most Mexicans with Native American heritages observe death as an integral part of the cycle of life. It is not a day or subject to be feared but observed with respect. El Dia de los Muertos is a moment when the living and the departed are reunited if only during this brief moment each year. Even in other cultures such as the Celts of Europe, All Hallows Eve or Samhain was a time when the veil between the living world and the dead was the thinnest and could be breached at times.

Today I had the opportunity to celebrate and observe this holiday with my friend, Mary and my partner, Raoul. Usually I am working at the front desk of the hotel, since this day usually coincides with the very large Annual Terlingua Chili Cook-Off which attracts thousands of chili heads and their followers. However, today was my one day off during this busy time and I accepted Mary's invitation to accompany her to the festivities. We arrived while it was still daylight and we were able to take some photos which I have posted here. The figures you see dressed up as Catrin and Catrina represent the continuing to be popular Bride and Groom figures. The Bride and Groom as they are known in Anglo terms were made popular in Mexican culture by Mexican artist, Guadelupe Posada. Here in Terlingua, someone in the community volunteers to dress up as the Catrin and Catrina and pose in front of the altar. The altar is located at the front of the cemetery in Terlingua Ghost Town. The altar is a place, during the celebration, where people can place photos or images of a loved one they would like to visit with and remember during this special time of the year. The Catrin and Catrina, this year there were two Catrinas, one dressed in black and the other dressed in white. I have seen most Catrina figures dressed in a white wedding gown. One year I gave Mary a Bride and Groom Day of the Dead figurines as a present.

After spending a few minutes there in the cemetery we decided to walk to the Starlight Theater to get something to eat and have a drink...or two since Mary had not eaten before starting out tonight. Of course, the Starlight Theater was decorated in the Halloween theme with cobwebs and spiders nests suspended from the light fixtures. After the sunset we began out walk back to the cemetery.

The bonfire and altar for mementos
As we began our dark walk, lit by a single flashlight, to return to the cemetery we did not see any lights or signs of the usual bonfire. It appeared as if we had missed the important half of the celebration which is the bonfire, live mariachi music and candles lit at every grave site. Well, at least we were able to get photos earlier. We walked to the car and as we got up over a small rise in the road, there laid out below us was a cemetery lit by small candles at each grave. There were alot of lights and we could hear music and there was a bonfire. We hadn't missed it after all! We walked into the entrance to the cemetery and began to find friends and neighbors that we recognized in the darkness. There were people seated around the campfire while listening to the local band, members of the Pinche Gringos, strumming on their guitars while singing songs. I looked around and the small flickering of lights seemed to go on for quite a distance into the night. In the four and half years I had lived here, this was the first time I had entered the cemetery. It was a good feeling to be here among friends to observe and pay respects to these people that had arrived before us many years ago and established this town. Someone or some people had taken great care to place a candle inside a glass jar at every single grave here in the cemetery. There were a lot. Soon though, the time arrived for us to leave since two of us at least had to work the next day.

A grave with lit candle
Grave site with crosses

I was so glad to have had the opportunity to experience something that before now I had only heard about. After today, this day each  year would have more meaning for me. More understanding of another culture and their interesting and different perspective on our world.

Happy Samhain and Dia de los Muertos.


MsBelinda said...

Thank you for the night time shots. I attended this event but my camera is a cheapo and I could not capture the glowing candles in the graves.

I did not know they had music afterwards. Will have to stay longer next year.

Charlton said...

I'm glad that you were able to enjoy the event. It was my first time at a Dia de los Muertos and I really enjoyed it. I like the idea of being able to enjoy time with those that have passed on at this one time of the year. What type of camera do you have? Sometimes even the point and shoot cameras have a setting called "bulb" that allows you to leave the shutter open. But you do need some way of keeping the camera still like a tripod or bean bag etc. Any movement will leave the photo blurry and out of focus. Keep taking photos!

MsBelinda said...

I have a Polaroid I1437 that I got on sale at Walgreens since I was going to an event I wanted to photograph and did not want to pay big bucks for a camera.

My good camera (which I am thinking was not so good) could not hold up to the Terlingua heat inside my tent back at the 2010 Chili Cook-off.