Noche de Muertos or Day of the Dead

Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, México small bytes


A photo montage and description of Pátzcuaro's famous celebration that every year welcomes the spirits of the dead back home for a brief visit.

Photos courtesy of Judy Cameron, a Vancouver photographer with a special place in her heart for all things Mexican. She can be reached at

As November 1st approaches, the Plaza Grande is alive with activity as the municipio begins to assemble the temporary shelters that house the huge craft fair of traditional artesanía from the pueblos that dot the Mesa Purépecha, the area around Lake Pátzcuaro.

The area under Los Portales is filled with sugary reminders of our mortality and soon after, the area by the Basílica is filled with the flowers that will attract the spirits of loved ones back for their annual visit.

The catrinas were originally the creation of José Guadalupe Posada. In lithograph form, he parodied the fancy Mexican ladies of Porfirio Diaz's time and their obscession with all things French.

Today, the catrinas can be skeletal devils, lovely ladies of the night, revolutionaries, the family pet, babies, newlyweds as well as the fashionable society snob. Their identity is limited only by the artist's imagination.


The craft market or tiángis in the Plaza Grande is one of the major focal points for Pátzcuaro's Noche de Muertos celebration.

Buyers from galleries come in to snap up the winners in the yearly concurso and shoppers intent on filling their Christmas lists and maybe even leaving something over for themselves also flock to the stalls.

A few days after the market is set up, the flowers appear, mainly in the streets around the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Salud. This is my favorite part of the Muertos celebration.

Orange and yellow marigolds and calendulas, fat balls of color appear. The strong odor of the cempasuchitl flowers, as they are known here, help the spirits find their way back, as does the incense of copal, the lighted candles, the profusion of other flowers and the earthly delights (like tamales, beer, tequila, sweets) that family members set out on the home altars or at the gravesite.

There are those that compare Muertos to Halloween but the two are worlds apart, even though vestiges of the American holiday slip into even the most traditional settings as can be seen above.

Mexicans, however, are adamant about claiming Noche de Muertos as their own as can be seen below.

Foto from an excellent site

With the huge tiángis that not only absorbs the Plaza Grande but spreads up and down surrounding streets, the myriad food stalls, the plethora of activities that keeps this generally quiet town really hopping for over a week, the hordes of young people that converge on the center intent on partying, it's possible to lose track of the true origin of the festivities.

Judy went to the cemetery in Tzintzuntzan November 2nd, the day after the all-night vigil and away from the tourists that swoop down in hordes, filling the streets, highways and graveyards to bursting. Her photographs capture part of the real spirit of Muertos.






The whole celebration might have a twinge of the macabre to those not used to it, but stick around the area long enough and the idea begins to become very appealing.

Not only do I feel the presence of the man who became like a second father to me after my apprenticeship with him in 1980 every Muertos, the spirit of silversmith Jesús Cázarez S. is almost palpable throughout the year.



Any time I go to the Panteón Municipal (or the town's public cemetery) and sit back on the slab of the unknown person who shares an adjoining grave, we might as well be back in the Maestro's workshop on Calle Obregón. We could both be hunched over tiny pieces of silver listening to the radio exploits of “Kaliman, El Hombre Increible” and talking about the profound and the mundane.


Life and death seem to blend as I sit there near the final resting place of the Maestro, his wife and generations of Cázarez members and maybe that is as it should be. small bytes

will be back next with some observations about Latvia & Italy.

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