Art+Culture Merida Prose+Poetry

Day of the Dead, Night of the Living

In the Yucatan, this centuries old celebration is called Hanal Pixan, or Food for the Souls, and lasts over a week. The Mexican people look at death just a little differently than we do, and I was very moved by my experience in Merida. This is a snapshot. (Story below, all photography by artist Ric Kokotovich)

From the darkness of night, the tiny room shone like a beacon. “Adelante”, the old woman said, and beckoned us forward. The room was no larger than a walk in closet, wallpapered with vestiges of the deceased. Whole lives were framed in cheesy plastic, the grim faces of uncles and aunts, grandparents and cousins, together again in their place of honour. Gourds filled with favorite foods meant to sustain them on their journey, were really there to say, “Mira, this is how much we loved you.”

I caught her husband’s eye as I quietly walked the perimeter of the room. He was handsome, dressed for the occasion in what was probably his best guayabera, washed and hand pressed that day I assume. A bottle of mezcal that looked like it had been unearthed from the pib, stood nearby. His eyes followed me around a room that glowed with candles, their glass holders chipped and blackened from smoke. A vase of flowers that had seen their moment in the sun, still made an attempt at life.

Asleep in a hammock strung the length of the tiny room was a babe swaddled in her grandmother’s shawl. “Preciosa”, I said to the old woman, to which she beamed, “Mi nieta”. “The hammock is like a cradle”, she said, and I loved the word in Spanish. “A la cuna”, I repeated to her, and we both smiled.

On my way out the door I caught her husband’s eye once again, his smile in the large glossy picture reaching out to me as if to say, “This was my life, my family. I will always be remembered and I will always find my way home.”

11 comments on “Day of the Dead, Night of the Living

  1. Lovely. Thousands of miles away, yet I was in that room too when reading your words.

  2. Lovely. Even though I’m thousands of miles away, I was in that room too just reading your words.

  3. GIves us a glimpse of it all, thanks Ric! Love the flower cross one, sacred rituals. Would love to be there for it someday. Around to Skype this week Ali?

    • I love the crosses too. Most are made with marigolds whose scent is said to draw the deceased back to earth for the yearly Dia de los Muertos reunion. Thanks for reading Booseville!

  4. Just realized you had written underneath Al! Brought a tear to my eye, well penned and heartfelt.Loved the cradle bit…

  5. Adam Brousseau

    Heart-warming! Lovely words and images, as always, you two!

  6. Lisa Adamuik

    Gorgeous photographs and beautiful story, Ric and Ali, I will dream those colours tonight and will now recall the smell of marigolds. Thank-you for this!



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