In the southern states of Mexico where indigenous people and their cultures thrive, the Day of the Dead is a very important syncretistic festival from October 31st November 2nd and is dedicated to the family and their deceased family members. I was glad I had chosen my Spanish immersion program during these dates.Repetitive chanting solemn alternating with joyous song excitement of children running around all night vigils.
Those were some observations of our visit to the cemetery of Xoxocotlan in Oaxaca that drew us in with a sense of complete disbelief and wonderment during our Spanish Immersion Experience in Mexico. I was experiencing the Day of the Dead, a traditional celebration in Oaxaca that would make my spanish immersion experience incredible!.All of our senses were alive that night as we very cautiously edged our way through the maze of hundreds of crowded tombstones, watching each step carefully along darkened and bumpy paths lit only by candles and the occasional camera flash from visitors.Families were seated on the ground around the gravesites waiting out their overnight vigil with food, drinks, cigarettes, music and friends to keep them company. Our entry into the cemetery was no less than amazing, lit by candles and accompanied by a blanket of somber music being played.The best part of my trip was that it was a complete Spanish immersion experience where I got involved in the culture.
A week or two in advance of the 3-day festival, the families begin preparing for the actual return of their loved ones to the gravesite and I was there. Preparations include cleaning the grave to refresh the dirt and flowers around it and planting new flowers, making loaves of beautifully decorated pan de muertos (a special sweet bread) and other foods that their loved one enjoyed while alive, molding chocolate into shapes and constructing the altar.The making of an altar is very personal, varying from one family to the next, built to display special items of remembrance of the deceased person in an attempt at bringing them back home once a year. No matter how modest the house is, everyone makes some type of altar. It may be as plain as a table with the loved one's photo and offerings such as chocolate, pan de muertos and flowers or it may involve a more elaborate assemblage of several step-like platforms with all of these items plus miniature "calaveras" (skeleton figures) and more. The structures themselves are covered in a cloth sheet before adding personal items and bright gold marigold-type flowers called zempasuchil are added.
During my Spanish immersion experience I visited the open-air Abastos market in Oaxaca, there was a stand dedicated to making and selling all types of chocolate. Not surprisingly, this stand was one of the more popular stops for visitors and locals alike who would take their chocolate home to mold it into shapes for the dead. I remember watching the shop employees make the chocolate fresh for purchase. After buying some chocolate, it was handed to you still hot and in liquid form in a big plastic bag.Later during the week, through the spanish immersion experience in Oaxaca I visited the market. We bought some chocolate for our host mother who used some of it for her altar and then watched as she prepared a homemade hot chocolate that she served to us every morning along with slices of pan de muertos and other typical Oaxacan dishes.
She first placed broken pieces of the chocolate into a blue-glazed clay pitcher, poured in boiling milk and then used a wooden utensil called "molinillo" (similar to a honey dipper but larger) which, when the long handle was twirled back and forth between her hands, created a frothy layer on the chocolate. As she poured some chocolate into 2 mugs, she explained to us that the way we should eat the pan de muertos is by first dunking it into the chocolate. The combination of the sweet bread and warm chocolate was enough to make us happy for the rest of the day, thinking about the following day's breakfast that would undoubtedly include chocolate.All in all, my Spanish immersion experience in Oaxaca was unforgetable.
Experiencing the Day of the Dead during my Spanish immersion program abroad helped me realize that it is not enough to learn the language, do a Spanish immersion program, live with a local family but the combination of all these components that make you really learn the culture..Enjoy a free Spanish Phrase ebook: http://www.amerispan.com/spdownload - This 30-pager is great if you quickly want to learn Spanish phrases for travel or life in general.
Also pronunciation and basic grammar. John Slocum is the president of AmeriSpan, a leader in immersion language programs and study abroad since 1993. 85 cities, 35 countries.
25,000 past participants. http://www.amerispan.com.
By: John Slocum