We were lucky enough to catch the affable, man about town, Jesus Aguado for an interview on his experience with Dia de Los Muertos as a child growing up in San Miguel.
Jesus writes for Atencion, the local newspaper written in both Spanish and English. You can pick one up in tiendas and restaurants for $20 pesos to find out all things San Miguel.
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Your family is from San Miguel de Allende. When you were growing up, did you all celebrate Dia de Los Muertos? If so, what were some of the ways you celebrated?
Martha, thank you so much for having me on mind to share a little bit of San Miguel de Allende, and one of the most magical traditions we have in this country, our Day of the Dead; a fiesta that is more for the living ones than it is for the dead.
I grew up in a rural community in this city. As a child, I remember my mother preparing the offering for those that have gone; I remember the guavas—the most aromatic fruit in the offering—the mandarins, mole, tamales and atole.
I remember helping to set up the feast for my mother’s father, crowning it with a picture—In fact, it was a family picture, and I always thought it was odd to have food for a dead person. And with all those who are living in the image!
My brothers and I always had questions. How does a dead person come back to this world and eat the chicken with mole or the tamales? If they were dead, how could they drink the water, and of course… the tequila? My mother always had the right answers, “Because it is not the body that comes to the offering, it is the soul, and the soul can smell. That is what they take with them, the smell of the food.”
There was something on the altar that as children we always wanted, the alfeñiques—candies specially made for Day of the Dead. Sometimes, we wanted a piece of fruit. Or the food because of the presentation of the beautiful offering, perhaps.
However, we always joked because we used to say, “be careful, since the dead person may be there and could spank you.”
What would you say to anyone visiting San Miguel that may not be fully familiar with the holiday?
Day of the Dead is a pre-Columbian tradition. Ancient naturals did not fear the death. They paid tribute to her as the “Queen of the Underworld.” There were specific rituals, for example. When somebody died they were buried with some of their belongings, since they would be traveling to a different world.
Day of the Dead is a day to remember those who have parted-- those who live in our hearts, our minds, and our souls; and it is believed that if we remember our love ones, they will never fade away. This is the reason of the offering that features their picture, their favorite food and beverages.
Día de los Muertos is also a tradition to cohabitate with the death here on earth, to merge the “best” of two worlds, living and dead. And laugh about life and death, because we all eventually will be a toy of the fate. Or should I say a toy of the death?
Do you have any advice to give on how visitors can celebrate respectfully?
In pre-Hispanic Mexico, Day of the Dead was celebrated in August, but after the conquest, it changed to November, when the Spanish celebrated religiously their death. On this day in Mexico, there is actually no protocol to follow. It is a fiesta anywhere you go.
If somebody goes to the crypts at the Parish of St. Michael the Archangel, I recommend they follow the behavior of a church. The catacombs open on November 1st & 2nd from 9am-7pm. The architecture is breathtaking, and many characters of San Miguel are buried there or their ashes remain there.
At the Pantheon, where people adorn the graves with hundreds of flowers, just observe and take a photo. But respect the privacy of the relatives of the deceased that are grieving.
On the street, if you get the opportunity, you can dance and sing and just capture an amazing memory on your camera of the ornaments that are classic of these two specific days (November 1st and 2nd).
What are some of the more traditional aspects of the holiday you enjoy the most?
What I love the most is visiting the offerings across the city. They can be found anywhere.
I absolutely like the marigold ornaments on the arches of the doors, and of course, the alfeñiques—Day of the Dead candies made with powdered sugar.
Some recommendations I could give for those that have never been to San Miguel:
Visit the mega offering at the Jardín Principal. It is set up during the morning of November 1st and is inaugurated by 7pm with a special program by the local authorities.
Visit the cemeteries—Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe on Salida a Celaya—and enjoy the scent of real México. It opens from 9am.7pm on Nov. 1st and 2nd.
The oldest Pantheon of San Miguel—It is smaller now, but it is well preserved—It is the one in San Juan de Dios. It is worth a visit since it opens just once a year on Day of the Dead. Same schedule as Guadalupe.
Try to catch a Catrinas parade and dance with them to the rhythm of mariachi music.
Take as many photos as you can.
Get a Qué Pasa, the most complete guide of events in San Miguel—it is free—and do not miss anything. Or buy an Atención.
Paint your face as a skull and have fun behind the mask.
How will you be celebrating Dia de Los Muertos this year?
As a journalist, I will cover as many events as I can these two days. I will offer a private lecture on Day of the Dead, and I may get me an alfeñique. Tthey come in many shapes and colors-- There are animals, skulls, catrinas, enchiladas, coffins, vegetables…