Tuesday, November 12, 2013


DEAD Day 101  By S. Derrickson Moore
@DerricksonMoore on Twitter
LAS CRUCES >> Día de los Muertos has been called “a day when heaven and earth meet” and “a celebration of lives well-lived.” In Las Cruces, it has become a beloved tradition, a time when Borderland cultures blend, showcasing and sometimes creatively combining Spanish, Mexican, American Indian and Anglo customs and beliefs.
Día De Los Muertos “is not a morbid holiday but a festive remembrance of Los Angelitos (children) and all souls (Los Difuntos),” according to a statement from the Calavera Coalition of Mesilla. “This celebration originated with the indigenous people of the American continent, the Aztec, Mayan, Toltec and the Inca. Now, many of the festivities have been transformed from their original pre-Hispanic origins. It is still celebrated throughout North America among Native American tribes. The Spanish arrived and they altered the celebration to coincide with the Catholic celebrations of All Saints Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls Day (Nov. 2).”
Continuing an annual Las Cruces Style tradition, here is a guide to some important terms and concepts relating to Day of the Dead celebrations, collected during 20 years of commemorations here.
 +alfeñique: Molded sugar figures used in altars for the dead.
+ancianos: Grandparents or elderly friends or relatives who have died; ancestors honored during the first (north) part of processions for Day of the Dead.
+angelitos: Literally “little angels,” refers to departed children and babies, traditionally honored during the first day of celebrations, Nov. 1, and the third (south) part of processions honoring the dead.
+anima sola: A lonely soul or spirit who died far from home or who is without amigos or relatives to take responsibility for its care.
+calascas: Handmade skeleton figurines which display an active and joyful afterlife, such as musicians or skeleton brides and grooms in wedding finery.
+calaveras: Skeletons, used in many ways for celebrations: bread and candies in the shape of skeletons are traditional, along with everything from small and large figures and decorations, skeleton head rattles, candles, masks, jewelry and T-shirts. It’s also the term for skull masks, often painted with bright colors and flowers and used in displays and worn in Day of the Dead processions.
+literary calaveras: Poetic tributes written for departed loved ones or things mourned and/or as mock epitaphs.
+Catrin and Catrina: Formally dressed couple, or bride and groom skeletons, popularized by renowned Mexican graphic artist and political cartoonist José Guadalupe Posada (1851-1913). In modern celebrations, Catrina is particularly popular and appears in many stylish outfits.
+copal: A fragrant resin from a Mexican tree used as incense, burned alone or mixed with sage in processions in honor of the dead.+•Días de los Muertos: Days of the Dead, usually celebrated Oct. 31 through Nov. 2 (the official date for Day of the Dead) in conjunction with All Souls Days or Todos Santos, the Catholic Feast of All Saints. Various Borderland communities, including Las Cruces, have their own celebration schedules in October and November. Look for altars and art exhibits around the Mesilla Valley, and our largest area celebration Nov. 1, 2 and 3 a on the Mesilla Plaza, also the site of a procession beginning at dusk Nov. 2.
+Difunto: Deceased soul, corpse, cadaver.
+La Flaca: Nickname for the female death figure, also known as La Muerte.
+Frida Kahlo: Mexican artist who collected objects related to the Day of the Dead. Her photo often appears in Día de los Muertos shrines or retablos.
+Los Guerreros: Literally, “the warriors,” are dead fathers, husbands, brothers and sons honored in the final (east) stop in Día De Los Muertos processions.
+marigolds: In Mexico, marigolds or “cempasuchil” are officially known as the “flower of the dead.” The flowers are added to processional wreaths at each stop, with one blossom representing each departed soul being honored. Sometimes, marigold pedals are strewn from the cemetery to a house. Their pungent fragrance is said to help the spirits find their way back home. Mums and paper flowers are also used.
+ mariposas: Butterflies, and sometimes hummingbirds, appear with skeletons to symbolize the flight of the soul from the body to heaven.
+ masks: Carried or worn during processions and other activities, masks can range from white face paint to simple molded plaster or papier-maché creations or elaborate painted or carved versions that become family heirlooms.
+ Las Mujeres: The women who have died are honored during the second (west) stop of Day of the Dead processions. After names of dead mothers, daughters, sisters and friends are called and honored, it is traditional for the crowd to sing a song for the Virgin of Guadalupe.
+ Náhuatl poetry: Traditional odes dedicated to the subject of death, dating back to the pre-Columbian era.
+ ofrenda: Traditional altar where offerings such as flowers, clothing, food, photographs and objects loved by the departed are placed. The ofrenda may be constructed in the home – usually in the dining room – at a cemetery, or may be carried in a procession. The ofrenda base is often an arch made of bent reeds. It is ornamented with special decorations, sometimes with heirlooms collected by families, much like Christmas ornaments. Decorations may include skeleton figures, toys and musical instruments in addition to offerings for a specific loved one.
+ pan de muertos: Literally, “bread of the dead.” It is traditionally baked in the shape of a skull, or calavera, and dusted with pink sugar. Here, local bakeries sometimes include red and green chile decorations.
+ papel picado: Decorations made of colored paper cut in intricate patterns.
+ Posada: José Guadalupe Posada, (1852-1913), the self-taught “printmaker to the people” and caricaturist was known for his whimsical calaveras, or skeletons, depicted wearing dapper clothes, playing instruments and otherwise nonchalantly conducting their everyday activities, sometimes riding on horse skeletons.
+ veladores: Professional mourners who help in the grief process in several ways, including candlelight vigils, prayers and with dramatic weeping and wailing.
+ Xolotlitzcuintle: Monster dog, sometimes depicted as a canine skeleton, sometimes as a Mexican hairless breed. Since pre-Columbian times, this Día de los Muertos doggy has, according to legend, been the departed’s friend, helping with the tests of the perilous crossing of the River Chiconauapan to Mictlan, the land of the dead.
S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at dmoore@lcsun-news.com, @derricksonmoore on Twitter or call 575-541-5450.

Your Favorite Fiesta
By S. Derrickson Moore
What’s your favorite fiesta?
There’s a lot of competition and it’s a hard call.
Over a long and festive lifetime, I’ve enjoyed St. Lawrence Seaway festivals in Michigan and Rose Festivals in Portland, Ore., along with decades of salutes to assorted produce, princesses, queens and even fish, from the Midwest to the Pacific Northwest.
I’ve hoisted steins and danced polkas at Oktoberfests (the real thing, in Germany, and imitations throughout the world).
I’ve been front and center (and sometimes even on the planning committee) for sophisticated soirees in Palm Beach and South Florida and attended polished urban celebrations in New York. I was even in residence nearby when the iconic original Woodstock changed the world, or at least the way we think of rock festivals. I had a newborn baby at the time, and after seeing the movies of infants in the mud, I’m still not sorry we skipped it. But to this day, my son still expresses regrets that we missed a chance to be part of rock history. Even if he wouldn’t have remembered it, he figures it would have looked good on album covers.
That’s the thing about fiestas. They can be very personal, and the best fiesta is in the eye of the beholder. Your favorites can depend on where you are, who you’re with and what’s important in your life, long term or at the moment.
I can still be surprised at your motivations and fiesta animals, even after decades of asking people what brought them to celebrations of various cultures, and cultural groups and causes, art, beer, wine, saints, religious holidays, jazz, drama, classical music, rock, pop, enchiladas, fast ducks and hot chiles.
Pilgrimages make sense for deeply spiritual occasions and reasons, like the annual Our Lady of Guadalupe Festival trek up Tortugas Mountain, for instance.
But I admit I’ve been amazed at the number of people who seem to communicate an almost religious fervor about finally making it to events like the Hatch Chile Festival. Red and green pilgrims have told me they’ve planned honeymoons and bucket list vacations around the annual pepper fiesta.
There are people who would genuinely rather be there for the running of the ducks in Deming, than, say, more famous events like the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain.
I know multi-generational families that plan their reunions around the Las Cruces International Mariachi Festival, the Whole Enchilada Festival or other favorite events.
In my Santa Fe days, I talked to collectors who had waited a lifetime to attend Indian Market, though those of us who lived there thought it was a madhouse to be avoided at all costs. We found it much more meaningful to visit Pueblos and studios and smaller events where we had a better chance to get to know artists and the art and culture that inspired them.
Whatever your preferences, it’s great to be in what might very well be the festival capital of the world during FTFS (Full-Tilt Fiesta Season).
It’s hard to imagine a bad fiesta in a place where the mood is mellow, fiesta prices are usually pretty reasonable and the weather is almost always good to great.
But if I had to name my favorite fiesta weekend (here, or anywhere else I can think of), it would probably be the first weekend in November. Most years, including this one, it’s the time for both the Doña Ana Arts Council Renaissance ArtsFaire in Young Park, and Día de los Muertos celebrations in Mesilla. Both festivals beautifully showcase the friendly blend of cultures and remarkable artistic talents of our citizens.
In prime time fiesta mode, we can transcend the barriers of time and space and realms of the dead and the living. And we can munch on sugar skulls and dragon toes while we celebrate lives well-lived and days very worth living and celebrating, here in the fiesta capital of the world.
¡Viva FTFS!
S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at dmoore@lcsun-news.com, @DerricksonMoore on Twitter or call 575-541-5450.

No comments: