Mexico is a country of great variety and that variety is clear in the many ways that Day of the Dead is commemorated in different states. In the Yucatan, the time is called by the Maya name Hanal Pixan and in some small towns they dig up their loved one bones and wash them. In Michoacán, boats with candles are sent out onto Lake Pátzcuaro in homage to the dead. This variety tends to reflect the traditions, both Mesoamerican and contemporary, of the different areas.
Huaquechula is a small town in Puebla famous for its celebrations of Day of the Dead, when locals open up their houses for people to view their altars. I was visiting the lovely Jessica from Mexican at Heart and she suggested that we go and check it out. As we approached the town, I wondered how it would feel to enter people’s homes to gawk at the altars for their dead loved ones. I wasn’t fully convinced, but the experience turned out to be such a communal one, with locals welcoming us into their homes and often sharing bread and chocolate with visitors. The most fascinating thing for me, however, was that the altars were very different to ones I was used to seeing in Oaxaca.
The altars in Huaquechula were white and more traditionally Catholic looking than the altars in Oaxaca. There were tier upon tier of depictions of angels and doves on flowing silks and a variety of flowers including, but definitely not limited to, the traditional cempazuchitl (marigolds). This difference likely speaks to the different ethnic diversity in Puebla and Oaxaca. Since Oaxaca has a much larger indigenous population, altars reflect indigenous traditions much more than Catholic ones.
Huaquechula has become a popular place for visitors on November 1, and there were traditional dances, a vibrant market and in the churchyard the Voloadores de Papantla put on an incredible show with the mighty Popocatepetl as their backdrop.
If you are in Puebla this year, I recommend visiting Huaquechula, stopping to see the amazing flower displays in the magic town of Atlixco de las Flores on the way.
Susannah Rigg is a freelance writer and Mexico specialist. Her work has been featured in Condé Nast Traveler, CNN Travel, BBC Travel, The Independent UK, Afar and The New Worlder among others. Check out her portfolio here. Contact Susannah by email, info [at] mexicoretold [dot] com and join her on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram.