Standing at the corner of the Oaxaca
’s central food market is an assault on the senses at the best of times. Chicheron or pork scratching the size of a small child are piled so high they are obscuring the stall holder’s view. Mountains of limes and avocados look set to cascade and create an impromptu guacamole. What was different this week were the delicacies reserved for `Dia de Los Muertos
‘ or day of the dead in Mexico – which is held on all souls day 01 November and is when the living remember and celebrate the dead.
It’s quite hard, as an outsider, not to find the celebrations a bit macabre but for the Mexican’s it’s a big party where any believe in the soul of a loved one continuing to exist is brought to the fore. Whether you’re a strict Catholic, indigenous Mayan descendent or even a pagan there seems to be a shared belief in being able to call upon the spirit of those departed as they can still offer guidance.
Back to the market!
Loaves of bread lie staring up at me – each one has the little face of the Virgin Mary stuck to the narrow end of its pear like shape; this is called `Pan de Muerto’ (Death bread) and is quite sweet. Now as I said there’s something very macabre about the whole festival but nothing more so than biting the head of a Virgin Mary in bread form. Some people take to the bread to the grave side of loved ones where they offer some up to the soul of the deceased and share the remainder among friends and relatives.
I like bread but not as much as I like chocolate so when we were told that another tradition was to take some chocolate to the cemetery and hand it out to children it seemed like a tasty way of getting involved and engaging to find out more about this quirky event. A huge vat of cocoa, sugar, milk, cinnamon , cloves and chilli were heated and blended and quickly shaped into golf ball size pieces before being placed into a plastic bag. The idea is that one waits until it cools then un-sticks it from the interior of the bag before devouring it or offering it as a token gift. Alas I couldn’t wait and by the agonised faces around me neither could the other customers, burnt fingers seemed a small price to pay for a ball of hot fresh chocolate.
At the cemetery families sat by grave stones of loved ones each holding a candle and surrounded by a marigolds as its believed the vibrancy and scent of a marigold can drive the soul to the alter where it can be remembered and praised. I saw many people deep in prayer or thought but very few tears – apart from perhaps those un-expecting kids we’d just given scolding chocolate to!