Weather: Dreary. We had a week or so of beautiful weather in the middle of October, and since then, we've had some sunny, crystally mornings, but by afternoon, we've settled into gray and rain of one sort or another. This is a fairly normal pattern here, or it used to be, or it never was, depending on whom you talk to, though the relatively bright days of recent years are generally considered an anomaly. I have a small treasure of a book called Leyendas de Xalapa: relatos y narraciones filled with small stories and descriptions and anecdotes provided by some Xalapeños in their tercer edad around 2006. One is simply called El Chipi-Chipi. We heard about chipi-chipi and experienced it on our first trip here which was in perhaps 1987 in November, just after the Day of the Dead when the golden cempasúchil (or any other number of spellings)which look like large, densely-petalled marigolds lay everywhere, wilted and smashed by passersby where the excesses had been abandoned by vendors, and drooped over the remains of altars and tombstones in panteones, or cemeteries and public places. I had, at the time, little notion of the Day of the Dead and found all these flowers, now bedraggled and lost, puzzling. Every day we spent here that November week dawned sunny and bright and ended gray, the sun and stars hidden in gossamer sheets of drizzly rain, chipi-chipi. Nobody seemed especially bothered, there were few umbrellas.
This year's days of November rain and chill seem early to me, but apparently they are not. In my small book, Sr. Carlos Álvarez Ramírez who was 66 years old at the time he recounted this, said that "the climate of Xalapa was very rainy by 1930, with many weeks and even months of rain, but they were powerful downpours in which there was much lightening and thunder. The seasons of the year were clearly marked so that one could prepare for cold or warmth.
"At that time in this area the famous chipi-chipi predominated, which was a very dense drizzle, so dense that you couldn't see even a yard ahead of you, worse than fog, because the light from the cars which continued to drive....could not penetrate the thickness of the drizzle so typical of our city. The chipi-chipi we have today is very different....With the chipi-chipi of old, one might not wear the same shoes for three days and then would find them full of mold....At night, the bed clothes were damp, the sheets felt cold because of all the rain."
This year we've had fierce storms and heavy rains and now, chipi-chipi, though lighter than that described above. But shoes get moldy, and clothes in drawers often smell damp. And the fog and drizzle embraced us, too, on the Day of the Dead.
A VERY few bits and pieces about The Day of the Dead you might or might not have known.
- It is not a Catholic holiday, nor does it have Catholic elements as any official part of it. It is purely indigenous, being most intensely celebrated in the south and east of Mexico (like our area).
- It is very old, having existed long before the Spaniards arrived.
- There are many variations, from group to group, area to area, and even family to family.
- It is a school holiday. Mexico has very strong prohibitions against introducting religious matter into the public schools, but perhaps fifty or sixty years ago, it became obvious that this celebratiion was actually deeply woven into Mexican culture. It used to be spread over several days for different kinds of people. A friend said there was even a day for animals. The Spanish moved it to November 1 and 2 to coincide with the Christian All Saints' and All Souls' Days. Here, November 1 is for children who´ve died and November 2 is for everyone else, though the celebrations seep into the rest of the week (at least).
- Apparently the tradition of las calaveras, the skulls, exists because in some places people kept the skulls of their dead in accessible places.
- It doesn't celebrate saintliness; it isn't a time of commemoration. Before Christianity, many groups held that the dead went to the underworld, not far from the living. On the Day of the dead, they returned to mingle with their families and friends. I don't think today at least people believe they can see the dead, but rather know they are there. Sometimes people eat the food on the altars knowing it pleases the dead to see them sharing in it.
- In our Colonia, Day of the Dead seemed a bit subdued this year. I'm not sure why. In past years, altars have blazed from most houses
- The cemetery celebration in Xico (which many people from our Colonia go to) takes place on the morning of November 2. In some places, it is the night before.
On the Day of the Dead, we visited new friends at their rancho on a hilltop outside Xico.The husband is Czech, raised in Canada, the wife is Mexican. The altar was Mexican and we had cabbage and mashed potatoes along with baked chicken and rice and peas and frosted cakes for the meal. The wife taught us a bit of Mexican dancing while she wore a beautiful traditional dress. We toured the slopes of the ranch where animals roamed pretty freely. The electric fencing kept them out of garden areas rather than within pastures.
Below are some pictures.
Our hosts finish preparing the meal.
The meal almost ready
Our hostess teaching us to dance (sort of)
Not surprisingly, it was a misty gray day. In real life, the colors seem deep and soft. Unfortunately it seems impossible to capture this lovely quality in photos.
Animals grazing. They are all mixed in with each other. The horses don't have shoes because the owner believes they hurt the horses' hooves. They seem very happy without them.
These pigs are domestic-wild (jabalina) hybrids
Domestic spotted pig portrait. Pigs are pretty cute.
So are goats. All the animals were treated lovingly, and it showed.
You know what these are.
There were also sheep, but for some unkown reason I didn't get a picture of them (unless the goats are actually the sheep). The dueño buys and sells sheep for meat, not wool. But they are happy until the end.