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Posts Tagged ‘day of the dead’

Dia de los Muertos

Posted by Tony & Cheri on October 15, 2012

Autumn in Mexico brings a cross-cultural pollination of holiday celebrations. Ancient traditions of mystery and magic from the Mayan and Aztec people combine with modern party vibes of the Caribbean and North America to make this one of the most fun times of the year here in Playa del Carmen.

The traditional Mexican Autumn holiday is called Dia de los Muertos, or “The Day of the Dead,” and takes place on November 1st and 2nd.
While sounding a bit scary, the holiday is actually a family-oriented celebration of life and a remembrance of loved ones who have passed on. The evening of November 1st is called La Noche de Duelo or Night for Mourning. On this evening it is said that the spirits of departed loved ones return to earth. Families gather for holiday meals which include the traditional pan de muerto or Dead Bread, which is a sweet cinnamon bread baked in a circular pattern. The spirits are welcomed and their lives remembered with feasting, drinking and music. Then on November 2nd, people will often visit the graves of family members and have picnics or other celebrations at the cemetery.

Dia de los Muertos is also celebrated by the building of ofrendas, or altars, in the memory of those who have died. These altars are decorated with photos, favorite food and drinks of the deceased along with brightly colored flowers, candles and ribbons. In addition decorations for homes, stores and schools feature images of skeletons in clothing going about their daily lives, often in humorous poses. In the same vein, candied skulls with frosting decorations are very popular among children. The idea behind such decorations is to remember that death is part of the cycle of life, and that rather than fear it we should learn to accept and even laugh at it.

We love this tradition and we build our own ofrendas each year for our friends and family who are no longer with us. For some photos and more stories about our ofrendas please take a look at our past blog entries: Day of the Dead and Mexico’s Day of the Dead Alive and Well in Playa del Carmen.

While the celebration of Day of the Dead tends to be a family affair, the famous eco-park of Xcaret here in Playa holds a huge annual public presentation with art, music and dance to celebrate and explain this holiday which predates the Spanish conquest of Mexico. For a great description and some wonderful photos of the park’s displays and activities please visit our friend Michele’s blog entry from a few years back: A Celebration of Life and Death at Xcaret.

Sugar Skulls for Dia de los MuertosOf course Playa has always been a magnet for many cultures, and so it is no surprise that the American version of Halloween has made its way down here. Many local Mexican children have fully embraced the fun of wearing costumes and running through the streets begging for candy. Stores like Walmart now feature the same costumes and decorations one sees back in the United States–something that was not true even a few years back when we moved here to Mexico. Bags of candy marked for Halloween and even pumpkins to carve as Jack o’ Lanterns are also commonly seen. On Halloween night (and for a few nights before and after), costumed children dressed as devils and witches and favorite superheroes will flood the resort zone pedestrian mall of 5th Avenue, running between the stores, cafes and restaurants asking for treats.

And it’s not just the kids who celebrate Halloween here in Mexico. Tourists and visitors arriving in Playa for the last days of the month of October will find there are plenty of fun and unique activities. For example our friends at the Mexico Blue Dream Dive Shop are holding a Pumpkin Carving Contest. However this contest has a Caribbean twist–it is held underwater in scuba gear! For details go to their Facebook event announcement.

There will also be plenty of adult costume parties at many of the bars here in town. Costumes that range from creatively funny to shockingly sexy will be seen up and down the resort zone’s 5th Avenue on Halloween night. The biggest and best of those parties is always the one at the Luna Blue Bar. There will be live music with the legendary troubadour of the Caribbean Coast, Barefoot Skinny. We will have costume contests with prizes for the best and the sexiest costumes. The pool will be open so bar patrons can have their margaritas floating in the pool. Playa’s best bartender, Jorge Sierra, will be pouring the drinks and there will be surprises and fun all night long from 7 pm until the witching hour of midnight. For some photos of our parties of previous years, please click here.

The fun doesn’t stop after Halloween. The beautiful fall weather here (average temperature around 83 degrees) is perfect for some of our other fall events like The Annual Riviera Maya Jazz Festival which features free concerts by internationally acclaimed musicians right on the beach. And America’s Thanksgiving Day/weekend is also a big celebration down here. Many restaurants will serve special dinners with turkey, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie and all the trimmings. Imagine having your turkey feast only steps from the blue water of the Caribbean Sea. Now that’s something to be thankful about.

Before plunging into the craziness of the holiday rush, why not treat yourself to a few days of pleasure here in Mexico at the award-winning Luna Blue Hotel & Bar. It’s a gorgeous time of year to be in paradise.

Halloween at the Luna Blue Hotel 2012

‘LIKE’ the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar

Posted in Activities, Events & Happenings, Living the Dream | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Mexico’s Day of the Dead Alive & Well in Playa del Carmen

Posted by Tony & Cheri on November 2, 2011

People visiting Mexico at this time of year will undoubtedly see references to Dia de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. The colorful iconic figures of decorated skulls and dancing skeletons may lead some to believe that it is part of the American/European tradition of Halloween. It is not.

Day of the Dead is a pre-Christian, multi-cultural tradition which took root in Mexico centuries ago, possibly as early as the Aztec civilization. And despite its somewhat scary title the holiday is a celebration and a memorial to the lives of family and loved ones who have already passed on. Traditionally there are two days in this holiday. On November 1st children who have passed are remembered, and on November 2nd deceased adults are recalled.

As the first days of November approach, families in Mexico begin preparing ofrendas or small altars or shrines. The ofrenda will often be decorated with photographs of dead family members, along with flowers, candy, and various images of the calavera and calaca…the skull and the skeleton. Skulls are made of spun sugar and decorated like a cake. Paper skeletons are portrayed in all manner of dress and behavior (often comic). These figures are not meant to be scary but to show death is not to be feared but instead laughed at as having no power over us.

As the days of celebration approach, the altar will also be filled with the things the deceased may have enjoyed in life. Alcohol, cigarettes and favorite foods are placed on the ofrenda. We even saw a marijuana cigarette placed on one! Water and a special bread called pan de muerto (bread of the dead) are also included in the gifts to the dead.

The purpose of the ofrenda is to call the spirits of the deceased back to this world so that they might experience the love that is still felt for them here. On the days of the dead families will have memorial dinners or visit the graves of loved ones. It is meant to be a happy remembrance of those who have passed. Sadness is discouraged as it is said tears will make the path back to this world too slippery for the spirits to make the journey.

We fell in love with this tradition when we first moved here to Mexico and found it to be a wonderful alternative to the fear and suppression of death often experienced in Anglo-American culture. We quickly adopted the tradition for ourselves and have built an ofrenda every year since moving to Playa del Carmen.

When we were first visitors to this area we often would stop and admire an ofrenda only to be told all about the deceased individual by the altar’s owner. We cherish those memories lovingly shared by people about their departed loved ones and still remember some of their stories.

On our ofrenda this year we celebrate family and friends who have passed away:

John Vernon Head ~ Tony’s older brother John was only 63 when he passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack this past June. He had lived his life fully as a loving son, brother, father and grandfather to his four children and grandchild. He had been a lawyer admitted to practice law in several states and for many years operated his own law firm. Although a tough-minded and practical attorney, he still delighted in his family, directing great celebrations for Halloween, Christmas and birthdays where he would even bake the cakes. He was as sweet as he was strong.

Tony’s Mom and Dad, Jack and Rosalie Head ~ Rosalie’s picture is her high school graduation picture showing her red hair, green eyes and bright Irish American smile. Jack’s picture is when he was 21 just after he made corporal in the Marines on the eve of WWII. It is inscribed “To Rosalie, The Sweetheart of the Marines.” On the back of the picture of Rosalie is a brown smear. It is Jack’s blood. The picture was inside his shirt on the island of Guam when he was hit by mortar fire. He carried it with him through the rest of the war, and still had it when he returned after the war to marry Rosalie. They remained together until Rosalie passed in 1997. Jack passed away in 2002.

Cheri’s dad, Ed Skultety ~ Ed is pictured on our altar in his US Air Force uniform. He spent twenty years in the Air Force serving honorably in Vietnam. He was later stationed stateside, mostly in Omaha, Nebraska. He married Sally Vernon (Cheri’s mom who now lives in Sacramento) and together they had six children. He retired from the Air Force in 1974 with the rank of Master Sergeant. That year he and the family moved from Nebraska to Pennsylvania where Ed had grown up and where much of his family still lived. He passed away in Pennsylvania in 1985.

Bill and Barbara Oates ~ Bill and Barbara were one of the strongest, most loving couples we ever met. They lived through a time when interracial couples (Bill was black, Barbara white) were often ignored, treated with disdain, or worse. They never complained, never returned the hatred they occasionally saw and never looked back. They held on to each other no matter what. They found a wonderful life in San Francisco where they were known at every good restaurant and decent bar in town. After they got older and ill they passed away within a few months of each other…it seemed they couldn’t live without one another. We miss them very much.

Our Pets ~ We also include on our ofrenda some of the many pets which have lived with us, brightened our lives and given us their love, including Huggybear, Belle, Pixie and Carib and the latest of these, our cat Shammy. Shammy was 21 years (over 100 in equivalent human time) when he passed just a few days ago.

Over the next few days we will take time to remember each of these members of our family. We will treasure those memories and renew our love for them. It is our hope that if the spirits of the dead pass this way tonight and tomorrow, they will feel nothing but the love we still have for them.

‘LIKE’ the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar


Posted in Events & Happenings, The Hotel & Bar, The Love of Travel | Tagged: , , , , | 5 Comments »

Day of the Dead

Posted by Tony & Cheri on October 31, 2008

Living in Mexico has exposed us to many traditions we were never aware of back in the US. One of those we really admire is observance of El Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.

Our Day of the Dead OfrendaIn Mexico November 1st and 2nd (All Saints Day and All Souls Day in the Catholic church) are celebrated as Dia de los Muertos. It is not a Catholic holiday but a tradition which goes back centuries. During this time people remember lost friends and family whose spirits symbolically return to the world of the living for one night to be with those they love. These are not scary ghosts but memories of the departed recalled and shared by those who love them. It is a chance to honor loved ones who have passed and to acknowledge that death is not to be feared but accepted as part of life.

The spirits are called back to this world by altars called ofrendas, or “offerings,” on which are placed pictures and objects that recall those who have passed away. The altars are festooned with flowers and decorated with candles, crosses and other significant icons. Water and a sweet bread called pan de muerto are also placed on the altar to give refreshment to the spirit who journeys across the void to be with family. A deceased person’s favorite foods or drinks or other objects associated with him are often put on the ofrenda as are candy skulls which symbolize that death comes to us all and is nothing to be afraid of. An altar may be set with cigarettes, whiskey, sweets or anything the deceased liked in real life. We once even saw a marijuana cigarette placed by a friend who explained to us that getting a little buzz was one of the deceased’s favorite things to do.

On the night of November 1st people gather to eat, drink and recall those who are no longer here. For some it is a symbolic celebration. In some areas of Mexico it is believed the spirits of the dead actually return to hear from the living about how much they were loved. The next day on November 2 people in Mexico visit the graves of the departed and party! Whole families visit the cemetery with picnic lunches. They spend the day remembering those who are gone. Tears are not allowed as they may make the path from the spirit world too slippery for the souls to travel. Whether it is symbolic gesture or in true belief of traveling spirits, El Dia de los Muertos is a beautiful gesture towards those who once shared our lives.

When we first started to come to Playa, many restaurants and store had an ofrenda out front. Sadly, nowadays they are rarer as Playa becomes more cosmopolitan. However we have always liked this celebration and this holiday, and so for the last few years we have made our own ofrenda, honoring the memories of family members and friends who we have lost but not forgotten.

This year our ofrenda is decorated with paper coverings, candy skulls, cigarettes, a bottle of Irish Cream liquor, some wooden cats, lots of flowers, candles, pictures of St Jude and The Virgin of Guadeloupe, a cross inlaid with pictures of saints, a nicho or shadow box showing a small skeleton couple holding hands (a Day of the Dead tradition) and a Bible. The following friends and family are part of our ofrenda this year:

Tony’s Mom and Dad, Jack and Rosalie Head. Rosalie’s picture is her high school graduation picture showing her red hair, green eyes and bright Irish American smile. Jack’s picture is when he was 21 just after he made corporal in the Marines on the eve of WWII. It is inscribed “To Rosalie, The Sweetheart of the Marines.” On the back of the picture of Rosalie is a brown smear. It is Jack’s blood. The picture was inside his shirt on the island of Guam when he was hit by mortar fire. He carried it with him through the rest of the war, and still had it when he returned after the war to marry Rosalie. They remained together until Rosalie passed in 1997. Jack passed away in 2002.

Cheri’s dad, Ed Skultety. Ed is pictured on our altar in his US Air Force uniform. He spent twenty years in the Air Force serving honorably in Vietnam. He was later stationed stateside, mostly in Omaha, Nebraska. He married Sally Vernon (Cheri’s mom who now lives in Sacramento) and together they had six children. He retired from the Air Force in 1974 with the rank of Master Sergeant. That year he and the family moved from Nebraska to Pennsylvania where Ed had grown up and where much of his family still lived. He passed away in Pennsylvania in 1985.

Bill and Barbara Oates. Bill and Barabara were dear friends of ours in San Francisco where Bill was a waiter and Barbara a bookkeeper at the legendary restaurant the Washington Square Bar and Grill. We met Bill one day when we sat down to lunch and he served our food. As Bill set her plate down, Cheri exclaimed, “That looks delicious.” Bill said, “you know, it really does.” He picked up a fork from a nearby table and took a bite of her lunch! We were friends ever since. Bill and Barbara were one of the strongest, most loving couples we ever met. They lived through a time when interracial couples (Bill was black, Barbara white) were often ignored at best, or treated with disdain, or worse. They never complained, never returned the hatred they occasionally saw and never looked back. They held on to each other no matter what. They found a wonderful life in San Francisco where they were known at every good restaurant and decent bar in town. After they got older and ill they passed away within a few months of each other…it seemed they couldn’t live without one another. We miss them very much.

Jerry Seawright. Jerry was the founder of the Blue Devil Drum and Bugle Corps. He took a small group of kids in Concord, California and created a performance group which eventually became an international sensation which today still sets standards for excellence. Jerry’s vision led the Blue Devils to win the Drum Corps International World Championship an unprecedented twelve times. The Blue Devils selects teenagers from across the country to come to California and become part of the group of performers and musicians Jerry called “my kids.” He was a special soul who managed to make each member of the corps feel special and important–and he somehow managed to always remember everyone’s name. One young 18-year-old who received a call from Jerry to come join the Blue Devils was Cheri. She was a member of the Blue Devils color guard from 1979 to 1981 (they were named world champions in 1979 and 1980). She then became an instructor of the color guard for the next two years, during which time they won another world championship. Cheri says the Blue Devils gave her an opportunity few ever experience, allowing her to mature, to grow and to see the world. And she largely thanks Jerry for that chance. Jerry passed in 2004 and is still remembered lovingly by thousands of “kids” all around the world.

Larry Hartsell. On our altar, Sifu Larry Hartsell‘s picture is laid on the book he wrote and next to a patch from his martial arts association which he gave to Tony many years ago. Larry was a pioneer in mixed martial arts. He was one of the first American black belts in both Judo and Karate. Later he became one of the few people ever trained by the great Bruce Lee, whose art of Jeet Kune Do Larry helped to carry on after Bruce’s death. Larry never became as famous as some in the fight game. There were no movies or big paydays, but he was one of the truly great and gifted fighters of his generation. And while he sometimes fought with his own private demons, he still had a gentle soul and was a good man. Tony was honored to have known Larry and to have been his student. Larry passed away late last year. We remember him fondly.

Also on our altar are pictures of our many pets, our family, who journeyed here to Mexico with us, or became part of our family after we arrived, four of whom we lost within the last six months: our beloved English Bulldog Huggybear; our sweet cats Belle and Carib who made the trip from San Francisco in our van; and finally Blue and Lola, cats who made their home for their short lives in the garden of the Luna Blue Hotel.

Our ofrenda gives us a chance each day to stop, look at a picture and recall a moment or time with someone special to us. And if their spirits join us for a night then we hope they find nothing but love waiting for them here in this world.

Luna Blue Bar Halloween Party!!

Halloween in Mexico

Mexico never used to celebrate Halloween. In fact, many Mexicans are scornful of the holiday, possibly seeing it as interfering with the sanctity of Dia de los Muertos, since the two holidays fall so close together. As a result, trick or treating, costumes, and the images of ghosts, witches and pumpkins have been relatively unknown here. But with the influx of foreign goods and influences, that is changing. This year, Walmart, Mega and other stores had large displays of Halloween costumes, decorations and bags of candy—in addition to traditional Day of the Dead items. It’s quite fun watching young Mexican children eyeing the colorful costumes and plastic pumpkins while their parents pry them away. Seems that kids here have caught onto the fact that all you have to do is put on a costume, and you can walk around and get candy from people on the street! We have seen more and more children on Fifth Avenue the past few years, for days before and after October 31, taking advantage of what must seem like an incredibly cool custom.

Other than the few trick or treaters on Fifth Avenue, how is Halloween celebrated in Playa? Mostly by expats and tourists in bars! Many local watering holes are having Halloween costume parties, including our own Luna Blue Bar, where we’re having Halloween Happy Hour this afternoon, October 31, from 4-8 pm with a free shot or beer for anyone in costume. You could easily start early and bar crawl your way through Halloween in Playa. If you find yourself in town later today, stop by & say hello. We’ll be the ones in costume trying to keep the locals cats off the ofrenda.

Posted in Events & Happenings, Living the Dream, The Hotel & Bar, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

 
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