For the second year in a row, Halloween did not suck!
Halloween is the hardest holiday to be away from the USA. It’s such an American holiday, and while it’s catching on in a lot of places outside the USA (I mean, who can deny the fun?!), it’s still hard to re-create it the way our kids expect it. Halloween involves costumes and makeup and sugar and FRIENDS. When you are nomadic, that friend part is a tad “trick”ier but when we look hard and get lucky, we find a “treat”. This year, like last year in Colombia, we knocked it out of the park!
Double Whammy: Day of the Dead and Halloween
Our good Halloween was made possible partly by Mexico’s traditional holiday called Day of the Dead. Day of the Dead is celebrated every year on November 2, but there are a lot of festivities leading up to it. And it has a lot of similar aspects to our Halloween, mostly in the predominant color (orange), makeup and special clothing areas. Oh, and the skeletons. So many skeletons!
We noticed Day of the Dead season was upon us by the displays at the stores. Massive altars honoring passed love ones decorated the stores and businesses, and surely private homes. My gym and the property managers for our apartment had altars, although instead of honoring loved ones they chose someone else to honor. The property manager had an altar for Mexican authors. The stores had all kinds of decorations and supplies for all the traditions: the orange flowers (marigolds) that Mexicans use to decorate the altars and the graves, the skull candies, the skeletons (usually entertaining you in some way, like dancing or playing music), fruits and drinks (usually those that the honoree liked) and the traditional colored paper cut in a way kind of like we do snowflakes.
I loved all the colors and the decorations. It was just gorgeous and so interesting to see. We also saw a lot of pan de muerto – bread of the dead – in the stores. This traditional bread is only found for a few weeks at this time of year. I guess it would be their version of Girl Scout cookies! It’s like a soft white bread covered in sugar, and sometimes has a flavor like orange or lemon. Haley and I could not eat it because gluten but Zoe reported that it was tasty.
My friend Lorena told me of their family’s tradition to go to the Day of the Dead party at Xcaret. The best way to describe Xcaret is like Disneyland meets a natural waterpark. It has water activities and little workshops and some performances. It’s one of the many parks around here where you can buy a ticket (rather expensive for Mexico) and have a blast for the entire day.
For 4 days they have an additional program from 4 – 10 p.m. for Day of the Dead. They have a lot more performances and more workshops and traditional foods from one state of Mexico. The state varies each year but this year it was San Luis de Potosi. We decided to go to this party together with Lorena and her family. Lorena was nice enough to give birth to boys in the same years that I had the girls, and she and Martin were also good to think ahead and raise them to be wonderful kids who are great friends to mine. Good planning, guys!
But it wasn’t enough just to show up at Xcaret. We had to be traditional! So the girls and I hunted down the traditional Mexican clothing, we bought some extra makeup and we made sure we had comfortable shoes for all the walking. We went over to Lorena’s before the event and did our makeup and hair. Martin told us that this was not necessary, that we could get our makeup done at the event. We told him “No way, Jose” because 1) using makeup that is also used on a lot of strangers = pinkeye! and 2) part of the fun of going places is getting all dressed up and made up with your girlfriends! Lorena caught a glimpse of what she was missing by not having girls and nodded enthusiastically during this conversation. And so that’s what we did. We pre-functioned the heck out of this function!
It wasn’t a professional makeup job (there were plenty of people around town offering their services for such, but we wanted to do it ourselves) but we think we did OK and we got a few positive comments from other party goers. The day before the event I spent several hours hunting down the traditional hair flowers in the heat, leading me to be very cranky and hot by the end of that day. And I only found a few random flowers. Where does everyone get these flowers for their hair? What am I missing!? It was like a treasure hunt with every other clue gone. Well, we show up at Xcaret and there were so many kiosks selling the hair flowers, I got dizzy! So that’s where they are! No matter, we did our FSO (figure sh!t out) method and made do. And made good use of Zoe’s new glue gun she had to buy to make her Halloween costume. win/win!
The party at Xcaret was great. We walked around, checked out the displays, the kids did some craft workshops, we watched a few shows, we got some dinner and we checked out all the other party goers. This was similar to a state fair, but more upscale. Imagine the State Fair had a baby with Disneyland’s Halloween Party. Whatever you call it, it was fabulous and we had a great night. And we did not get rained on! Bonus!
We finished the night around 10 p.m., with aching feet but fully socialized and content. It was a memorable night and most of it was due to the great company.
No rest for the weary! The next night was Halloween. Time to swap out makeup and clothing and dress up in costumes! Haley found a costume for Luigi, a character from a very popular video game (we didn’t realize how popular he was here until she was mobbed for pictures). Zoe dressed up as the ocean, complete with trash (sadly). Lorena, Martin and The Boys joined us once again and we headed down to the tourist pedestrian area a few blocks from our house. Mexican Halloween is similar to Medellin: you take candy to a central area and if you see costumes you like, you pass out candy. Other people do the same. So it’s kind of a candy exchange. Although there were fewer people passing out candy than people seeking candy so once you started passing it out you got mobbed and stuck in the crowd for a little while. We ran out of candy pretty quickly. And Mexicans don’t pass out any of the good stuff like Snickers or MnMs. They like stuff with high fructose corn syrup that is lime or chili flavored. No gracias.
It was crowded but very festive and we walked from one end of 5th Avenue to the other, no small feat for our aching feet, which had barely recovered from the night before at Xcaret. But we did it and the kids had a great time. We ended up eating dinner at a restaurant near our house at 10 p.m. which is normally when my eyes are closed and I am lying prone in my bed. But the temperature had dropped and it was positively pleasant outside, so we were in good spirits. And the kids were hungry from all the posing for photos.
Day of the Dead
The actual Day of the Day is on November 2, so after a day of rest (thank goodness! we needed it after two nights in a row of partying!), we decided to see what was happening down on that same pedestrian street where we we spent Halloween. Traditionally, on this day, Mexican families go to cemeteries to celebrate their loved ones buried there. They bring food and drinks and they decorate or clean the grave site. This was a tradition that is deeply personal and private and we did not participate in or watch it in any way.
But there was a parade happening down on 5th Avenue of Catrinas. La Calavera Catrina (‘Dapper Skeleton’, ‘Elegant Skull’) is a zinc etching by the Mexican printmaker José Guadalupe Posada and she has become an icon of the Mexican Day of the Dead. The parade was called Todos Somos Catrinas – We Are All Catrinas. Organizers encouraged people to dress up as as Catrina and join the parade. We were done with the dressing up but we went down to watch it all. It was very festive and fun to see all the different dresses and makeup. The night was made even better by extremely pleasant temperatures, this time at 5 p.m., which made us even happier.
It was a great outing – close to the house, very low key, not too long and yet rather interesting. We wrapped up the night after the parade ended and headed home, happy to put this season of Halloween and Day of the Dead to rest, but happier still that we were able to participate in such a fun way.
Lorena and Martin told us that they’ve always wanted their boys to be able to experience Halloween in the traditional American way, so we’ve made a date to show them the ropes in Arizona next year. Save the date, Lorena! I’m pretty sure we’ll be able to pull off Shermanos’ Third Awesome Halloween In A Row.