“the authentic and true death is forgetting”
In Chapala, lots of people chip in money, time and effort to make these altars and then, once night falls and the candles are lit, people from all over come to walk the several blocks where the altars are set up to walk by them all and check them out, the same way we used to drive by over-the-top suburban Christmas light displays when I was a kid. There is music, little kids perched on their dads’ backs, teenagers hanging around (Sofia of course was there checking it all out with her school friends), people handing out traditional drinks and pieces of the traditional bread of the dead, pan de muerto, foreigners, dogs, everyone having a great time. Of course, at all the local cemeteries, the graves are still decorated, families come to the cemetery to visit their departed loved ones with food and drink, kids run around, and the traffic in front of the cemetery requires bunches of extra cops to manage the flow.
As with many contemporary manifestations of tradition, some things – remarkably – still seem fairly permanent. They say that the orange of the marigolds was a holdover from the Aztecs, who thought that the brilliant orange of the flowers would light the way for the spirits to come back to touch base with the living; the purple of course was the color of Christ and of Christianity; black for European notions of mourning, and so forth. Every altar pretty much as the requisite mirror (so the dead can spiff themselves up after the arduous journey back here), soap, towel, comb and basin. The usually four levels of the altars also have meaning and were taken from Aztec tradition. And so it goes.