Reviving Dia de los Muertos

When I first moved to San Antonio, the places to see flowers and foods placed on graves to encourage visits from their inhabitants were the old San Fernando Cemeteries. Most of the wrinkled pilgrims picnicking with their deceased loved ones on All Saints and All Souls Days, November 1 and 2, appeared poised to repose alongside them. The remnants of the Dia de los Muertos traditions enduring from when San Antonio had been part of Mexico were dying with them.

Bedoy’s Bakery, founded in 1961, credits Father Virgil Elizondo with encouraging the bakers to dust off traditional old recipes for dead bread, pan de muerto. I used to buy the breads around Halloween, but felt guilty when we selfishly ate them without offering to share them with the dead.

In the past decade or two, artists in San Antonio began adding contemporary twists to ancient Day of the Dead traditions, and now the city sponsors a full-blown fiesta for Dia de los Muertos in La Villita. Altars, processions and even a concert by Girl in a Coma were part of this year’s event, held a bit early because the city’s Day of the Dead calendar is getting more crowded.

While a far cry from the celebrations we witnessed outside of and in San Cristobal de las Casas last November, San Antonio’s spirited version represents traditions worth reviving and refreshing for new generations.

Although I cannot comprehend why the marketing department at Coca-Cola is not all over sponsorship opportunities for this event. In Mexico, Coca-Cola dominates the graveyard market in San Juan Chamula, Chiapas:

One would think a people who have rejected so many standards held by outsiders would not consider taking even one sip of a Coca-Cola. But expelling evil spirits from the body is key. Spitting helps, but burping is best. And what is better at inducing burping than a few shots of rapidly consumed Coke….

But, what marketing genius convinced the Chamulans a half-century ago to incorporate Coke into not only their Sunday church-going regimen, but everyday life? I mean, Chamulans need to continually maintain their guard against those invasive evil spirits, burping them out on a regular basis.

And whoever the lucky holder of the local bottling franchise is really struck a home run with this. The market is larger than just the living. On Dia de los Muertos, even the dead are served Cokes to quench their parched throats from so much time spent underground and to burp away any evil spirits hanging around the cemetery.

Just think how large Coca-Cola’s market share would soar if this practice spread to the dead everywhere.

Here are some posts from last year in Chiapas, Mexico:

 

Postcard from Toledo, Spain: Another splendid museum off the beaten path

So close to Toledo’s Plaza Mayor yet skipped by so many visitors, the riches of the Santa Cruz Museum are displayed in a stunning rehab of a 16th-century hospital.

Yes, there are some El Greco works inside, but, uncharacteristically, I was fascinated by the fashions – an exhibit titled La Moda Espanola en el Siglo de Oro.

If you are paying attention, please, Mister, a necklace with powerful magical amulets resembling the one above is at the top of my birthday wish list.

And more on the fashion front: Returning to a blog theme broached in San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico, “What should Jesus wear?,” a large canvas in this museum seems to address whether he wore boxers or briefs.

Postcard from Oaxaca, Mexico: Bite the baby; throw the party

three-kingsThe pair of skinny Santas on stilts (I know; I don’t comprehend their significance either.) who roamed the plaza in front of the Cathedral around Christmas have been replaced by itinerant trios of kings soliciting tips for family photos. This troupe was the only one around bearing gifts for Baby Jesus accompanied by the beasts (well, sort of) originally transporting them to the manger in Bethlehem on January 6.

Epiphany was always a holy day of obligation when I was growing up, another command day at church which fell within several weeks of a multitude of visits to church. But we weren’t rewarded with cake.

In Mexico, Saint Nicholas traditionally does not arrive bearing gifts for children on Jesus’ birthday. Children have to wait until the day Jesus received his presents – gold, frankincense and myrrh – delivered in tribute to him by the three kings. So, on January 6 in Mexico, Mass is followed by presents and a party with cake – rosca de reyes.

Shannon Costello's rosca de reyes

Shannon Costello’s rosca de reyes

The staff at the Library of the University of Texas at San Antonio has translated, along with helpful baking tips, a traditional kings’ cake recipe from Panes de Levadura by Josefina Velazquez de Leon, part of the collection of Mexican cookbooks, La Cocina Historica.

Not everyone in Oaxaca appears to make these from scratch. Boxes of the rings of cake have been flying off shelves in bakeries all over town.

Hidden inside each is a little figure representing Baby Jesus. If the piece you receive contains the nino, your family has to host the next fiesta specifically for Jesus on the calendar, Candelaria on February 2, or prepare the homemade tamales for the party (Whoa! I prefer the no-strings-attached prize in Cracker Jacks).

Candelaria is when all the Baby Jesuses housed by the faithful in their homes receive new clothes. Then, dressed in appropriate finery, all the little statues are carried to church to be blessed.

Hmmm. What should Jesus wear? Is Oaxaca ready to follow the fashion trends being set in San Cristobal de las Casas? Happy Kings’ Day.

And, if the kings have any gifts in mind for me, of the ancient trio, I’d prefer the gold.