Mexican celebration as Día de los Muertos comes to Stanford for the first time
Whether the Western Cape village is ready to party in honour of the dead is still being debated.
Few locals in Stanford have ever heard of Día de los Muertos. And come to think of it, why should they have? But now they do know about it — and there’s a dilemma. Should they honour their deceased with a special event, which they’ve never done before, or should they join in with a new Mexican “honouring the dead” vibe that’s come to the village?
For people like me who had never heard of Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead in Spanish), it’s a couple of days in early November when Mexicans celebrate their dear departed with street parties. Throngs of people dress up as skeletons with skeletal face paintings, etc. Día de los Muertos is a joyful party time to celebrate the spirits’ annual two-day visit to home and family on Mother Earth.
The returning spirits are showered with gifts. Candles are lit, altars are decorated, graves are visited, graveyards are spruced up — and dancing with the skeletons is just part of the fun.
The owners of the Mexican hangout La Cantina in Stanford famously ran out of margaritas a few months ago on the first day of business when the Cape Epic bicycle race brought thousands of visitors to the normally sleepy village. This time around, Lyn and Mark Krebser, who have strong Mexican family links, are giving the village plenty of time to think about whether or not community groups would like to join in with their planned Day of the Dead celebration in November.
Nobody has remembered the dead in Stanford in a celebratory fashion for the past 100 years or so, which is why a group called “The Forgotten Ones” has volunteered to clean up two old graveyards and fathom who is buried under, in some cases, just a pile of old stones.
The local paper started the ball rolling when it asked whether dancing in the street for the dead was appropriate for the village. For some, the thumbs were up, and an equal number were down.
So now it’s up to the Krebsers and La Cantina to show the village how the dead are celebrated in Mexico. Plus, they’ve promised not to run out of margaritas. Said Lyn: “We understand that this annual festival is not part of the local culture, but we hope we can persuade people that the dead have a special part to play in our everyday lives and remembering them with fun, love and laughter is the least we can do.”
Their celebrations will take place in and around the popular restaurant, but next year, who knows? Maybe it will be time for a Día de los Muertos South African style — and to hell with Halloween.
Celebrating and revering the dead
In Mexico, death rites date from pre-Hispanic rituals represented in murals, painted pottery, monuments and artefacts, which show how the Day of the Dead has its origins in the rituals practised by the indigenous peoples of the Americas.
Those who have died are alive in our memories. Death is an integral part of life, and the living and the dead meet on 1 and 2 November, Día de los Muertos, to emphasise the importance of death in the cycle of life.
To welcome the spirits of the departed, the family members build altars in their honour that mostly include yellow marigolds, candles, photos of the deceased, papel picado (cut tissue-paper designs), as well as offerings of food and beverages. DM
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.