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Mexico - Day 2 - Learning to celebrate

MEXICO | Wednesday, 4 March 2015 | Views [667]

We woke up on our second day in Mexico, prepped and ready to begin filming. On the agenda for that day – Herbolaria Beto Ramon.

Beto Ramon was a man much revered in the state of San Luis Potosi. A traditional healer by practice, Ramon was known for his study and use of herbal and natural medicines. We set out to meet the widow and daughter of this celebrated man, as they began their preparations for Xantolo, or the upcoming Day of the Dead festival.

True to its reputation, the Herbolaria was vibrant and alive when we reached – bustling with people as they set up their alter. As part of the Xantolo celebrations, we learned, families set up an alter to pay their respects to the returning dead. And on that first night before Xantolo, it is believed, it is the children who come back from the dead to visit their families. The alter for that day is decorated with flowers, fruits, candies and even sweet tamales – all to welcome loved ones back home. These goodies are replaced the next day with spicy tamales, beer, tequila and any other favourites, in anticipation of the older dead, who return on the second night. 

Our crew was welcomed with the smell of marigolds and fresh corn dough for the tamales, and we made our way around the house watching the frenzied activity unfold. Beto Ramon’s house is well-known for celebrating Xantolo on a grand scale, and we got a chance to watch the opening dance performances and fireworks, take part in their cleansing ritual, and even help fill and roll the tamales to be cooked. The same tamales were then devoured by us two hours later, before we set off for the next stop – a cemetery in Chalco. 

I’m not sure what we had expected Xantolo to be like, but we definitely hadn’t expected a festival as joyous as it was. When we reached Chalco, the sun was still setting and there was a calm but eerie vibe to the cemetery. We set up our tripod on a cement slab, ready for our timelapse, before we realized that the slab was actually a grave and it would be disrespectful to place anything on it. Fast forward to 10 p.m. when the graves were covered with, once again, marigolds, tequila, beer and celebrating people.

Xantolo welcomed us and overwhelmed us all at once that first day. We ate, laughed and danced with the families, and yet we weren’t able to celebrate with them, not with the same sense of serenity they had. Coming from a culture that falls silent in respect for the dead and remembers loved ones in hushed tones, it was hard at first to view the festival for what it was – a celebration of the life those people had once lived, and a night to greet them, ever so briefly, back into the mortal world.

But as we stood there in the cold cemetery of Chalco, surrounded by dances and laughter, and sharing cups of hot chocolate with the families, we came a little closer to understanding the joy that surrounds Xantolo.

Tags: culture, dance, day of the dead, festival, food, india, mexico, road trip, travel, xantolo

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