Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Day of the Dead in Mesilla, NM

Halloween came and went, but this year we were excited to experience our first Dia de Los Muertos! Traditionally celebrated November 2nd, it's a big deal in Mexican culture. Since we're only 10 minutes from Mexico, it is also a big deal here too!

As an outsider, Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) seemed pretty creepy to me. Skeletons and skulls decorated everything, little kids ran around with painted skull faces, and even the traditional food associated with the holiday had creepy names like "Bread of the Dead".

Pan de Muerto and Mexican hot chocolate

The week leading up to the holiday, all the grocery store bakeries were selling this "Bread of the Dead", a sweet, eggy bread covered in colored sugar or sesame seeds. According to my Mexican friend, it's usually eaten at the gravesite of your loved ones and the shapes on top of the bread represent bones and tears.

After hearing that, we set our table with some more appropriate decor...

(Verdict: Very tasty)

Despite its spooky undertones, many people who celebrate the holiday say that it is a joyous event, meant to celebrate and remember the lives of loved ones who have died. Dancing, singing, sharing memories and the favorite meals and drinks of the deceased create a festive atmosphere. As one woman I spoke to described it, "Everyone will die, so we choose to laugh at death. We make light of it by dressing up and decorating with skulls and setting out marigolds (the flowers of the dead). We don't want to cry about those that are gone, we want to remember the good things about them."

Traditionally, families visit the graves of their loved ones and picnic there. Since that wasn't possible for us, we decided to check out the Dia de Los Muertos festival in Mesilla, New Mexico.

All around the plaza you could find altars decorated with pictures, sugar skulls, and items the person loved during life. While some of the altars were personal, others were silly (like an altar to a pet piranha) or sobering (an altar to soldiers killed in Iraq or to the thousands of women murdered in Juarez).

There were also lots of people all decorated for the big day!

A very nice lady selling Pan de Muerto

Of course, there were also lots of vendors selling Day of the Dead trinkets. Some of them were really beautiful, but I think so many skulls in my house would creep me out (I'm a scaredy cat, y'all).

The town of Mesilla, NM was really cute and such a fun place to explore. Besides the festival they had a lot of shops and restaurants to check out, along with the chance to brush up on some Wild West history (Billy the Kidd was tried here!)

My favorite part was seeing the Folklorico dancers. I loved their costumes and the playfulness of the dancing (especially how they interacted with the audience)

While I don't think I'll be swapping my pumpkins for sugar skulls in the future, it was still really fun to experience Dia de Los Muertos for the first time. 

All this talk of the Wild West has given me dreams of being a gunslinging cowgirl. First stop, real boots and lose the skirt. That should do it.

Happy belated Halloween, friends! :)


  1. Very cute pictures of you two.

    I think I can get behind this more than Halloween. We don't really 'do' Halloween in the UK, not the way you do it Stateside, but I did see quite a few Day of the Dead celebrations on Facebook this year. It's a bit hipster in the UK at the moment!

  2. I'm so sorry about your friend (in the post above)! I would've left a comment there, but it didn't seem appropriate.

    I'll gladly swap places with you—you come to GA and we'll go to NM!! There's like a one in a million chance for us to ever get stationed near NM, so it's such a long shot, but we're holding out hope for the future! Have I told you about Chopes yet? It's near Mesilla (about 15 minutes away, maybe), and it's my absolute favorite NM restaurant....ever. Fair warning, though: the food is HOT and the hours (back when I used to go there) were really strange, so call before going. Glad you're making the most of your new area :)