Posts Tagged ‘Huaquechula’


Where to Celebrate Day of the Dead in Puebla

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

A Day of the Dead altar in Huaquechula, Puebla.Few traditions in Mexico rival Day of the Dead in their mixing of ancient and modern beliefs. The national holiday, which is celebrated in Puebla in late October and early November, honors lost loved ones by paying tribute to — and praying for — their spirits. Day of the Dead’s origins can be traced to pre-Hispanic times, when the Aztecs held a month-long ritual for the goddess of death, Mictecacihuatl. These days, many families set up altars in their homes or businesses to remember people who’ve passed away, often during the preceding year. The notion is that, by doing so, they welcome, nourish, guide, and otherwise assist the souls in their journey after death.

“This holiday is a perfect example of the complex heritage of the Mexican people,” observes Judy King of MexicoConnect. “The beliefs today are based on the complicated blended cultures of his ancestors, the Aztec and Maya and Spanish invaders, layered with Catholicism.” (In Puebla, there’s been at least one ofrenda dedicated to Pope John Paul II in recent years.)

Day of the Dead altars range from modest displays of the deceased’s favorite foods and objects to costly and elaborate monuments of affection. In some places, such as the town of Huaquechula, families welcome visitors into their homes to appreciate their altars and to share a cup of hot chocolate or atole and a slice sweet bread or a homemade tamal. Note: It is customary to leave a few coins in the offering or add a votive candle to the altar if you do.

If you’re in Puebla for Day of the Dead in 2012, here’s where to see altars and participate in other holiday-related activities.


Looking for places to see traditional altars in the city of Puebla? Head to the historic center. The IMACP plans to show off the semifinalists in its 42nd annual altar-building contest at the Galería del Palacio Municpal (Portal Hidalgo #12, Col. Centro) from Nov. 1 to 4, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Just across the zócalo, on the other side of the Cathedral, the Casa de Cultura (5 Oriente #5) hosts its own colorful competition, as well artists selling Day of the Dead jewelry, figurines, and snacks. Both events typically draw a spectacular array of altars, or ofrendas, in styles varying from indigenous to innovative.

Meanwhile, the Museo Amparo hosts a Fandango de Muertos on Nov. 1 and 2 at the museum (2 Sur #708). The family-oriented events feature a marionette show about Day of the Dead at 6 p.m., followed by the traditional musical stylings of Poblano folk group Reyes Son at 7:30 p.m. The Amparo is also participating in the city-sponsored Museum Nights on the same days. Admission to the Amparo, as well as eight other galleries, is free after 5 p.m. or so (hours vary at different locations). For complete details and participating sites, click here [PDF].

Other scheduled events in Puebla’s 2012 La Muerte Es Un Sueño festival include: “Living statues” in the Pasaje de Ayuntamiento (the enclosed walkway next to the Palacio Municipal), Nov. 1 through 4, 1 p.m. to 7 p.m.; various performances of pre-Hispanic music and dance by Grupo Azteca Tonatiuh, Nov. 1, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the zócalo; a grand parade of traditional calaveras, from Paseo Bravo (corner of Reforma and 11 Norte) to the zócalo, Nov. 2 at 6 p.m.; and a concert by the Huapango trio Descendencia Huasteca, the “pre-Hispanic and electronic” band Rockercoátl, and cabaret singer Regina Orozco, Nov. 3, starting at 6 p.m.


The Complejo Cultural de la BUAP (Vía Atlixcáyotl # 2499, San Andrés Cholula) brings Halloween and Day of the Dead together in a single celebration, Vive Muertos. Starting at noon on Oct. 31, the university campus will offer various musical, theatrical, and dance performances, including a re-enactment of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” (6:30 p.m.). Visitors can also view altars, taste typical foods, make their own sugar skulls, and watch open-air movie screenings.

Cholula en Bici is also merging All Hallows’ Eve with All Saints’ Day on Oct. 31 with a bicycle tour of cemeteries around town that leaves the main square of San Pedro Cholula (Avenida Morelos at Miguel Alemán) at 8 p.m. Participants in the two-wheeled rodada panteonera are invited to decorate their bikes and bring food or drink to share.


The city of Atlixco has assembled a massive floral carpet for Day of the Dead, which is on public display in its zócalo through at least Nov. 10. It features a Catarina modeled after the post cards of cartoonist José Guadalupe Posadas — comprising some 150,000 marigolds, chrysanthemums, and amaranth and coleus plants. Meanwhile, a giant altar erected by city employees is on display inside El Palacio Municipal. Atlixco also plans to host a desfile de calaveras, or skull parade, downtown on Nov. 2.


The trek to and around Huaquechula during its Feria de Todos los Santos is well worth it. Its unique altars, which can cost tens of thousands of pesos to assemble, are towering structures up to 10 feet tall. These ofrendas are often made of cardboard and covered with white or pastel-colored satin, and the shiny fabric gives the multilevel tributes a distinctive look. As noted above, the townspeople open their doors to the public, including curious tourists who’d like to pay their respects. Nearly 40 altars will be on display from Oct. 28 to Nov. 1 this year. If you go, wear walking shoes and start your tour at 2 p.m. at the cultural center on the town square, which provides a map to homes with altars. You can also follow the trails of marigold petals leading to the ofrendas from the street.


A bit further afield, in the town of Chignahuapan, the Festival of Light and Life takes place on Nov. 1. It features a torchlight procession and an artistic representation of the nine levels of Mictlán, the Aztec underworld. The procession, expected to draw some 2,000 people, starts around 6 p.m. and travels from the zócalo to the lake.

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

Post updated on October 25, 2012. The original version was published on Oct. 18, 2011.

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Why Puebla Is Mexico’s Place to Go in 2012

Friday, January 6th, 2012

While beach-loving tourists plan “end of the world” trips to the Mayan Riviera in 2012, savvy urban travelers — particularly history buffs and foodies — are heading for the city of Puebla. Why now?

The state capital, officially known as Heróica Puebla de Zaragoza, has been steadily racking up travel-related accolades over the past nine months. First, the San Francisco Chronicle called out Puebla as one of the five safest places in Mexico for travelers. Then the Matador Network, an independent journalism site that celebrates travel culture, highlighted Mexico’s fourth-largest metropolis as one of nine safe and awesome places to travel in Mexico. Next, National Geographic Traveler chose Puebla and nearby Huaquechula as one it’s best fall trips (for Day of the Dead). Then the readers of the Lonely Planet travel guides gave the city a Best in Travel 2012 nod, voting it one of this year’s ten hottest destinations worldwide. And now The New York Times has picked Puebla as one of its 45 places to go in 2012.

The widespread recognition of Puebla as a list-worthy travel destination is long overdue.

Young poblanos pose as Colonial-era soldiers on a Cinco de Mayo parade float (2011).Of course, Puebla has been “safe” for a long time, and Day of the Dead happens every year. But 2012 also marks the 150th anniversary of Cinco de Mayo, which in Mexico is a state holiday that commemorates the David and Goliath-esque Battle of Puebla in 1862. In the somewhat miraculous military manuever, local forces managed to fend off French troops for several days, despite the fact that they were grossly outnumbered and outgunned. As news of their victory spread, via telegraph and Spanish-language newspapers, its impact on Mexican emigrants in California was profound, historians say. This helps to explain why Cinco de Mayo matters today in the United States.

For this year’s milestone May 5, Puebla officials are planning numerous public events, to which they’re inviting residents, visitors, and dignitaries from all over the world (including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton). The activities will include a massive Cinco de Mayo parade and the first international mole festival. The parade, marshaled by President Felipe Calderón, is destined to top the 2011 affair, which featured 26,000 students and schoolteachers, 5,000 military and public safety personnel, and more than 50 decorative floats from communities statewide. The route traditionally follows 5 de Mayo Boulevard from Plaza Dorada/Juarez Park to the Loreto and Guadalupe forts where the historic hilltop battle took place. However, this year officials may alter the course in order to showcase one of various newly completed public works projects: a series of bridges (two of which are elevated) dedicated to General Ignacio Zaragoza.

A float in Puebla's 2010 Cinco de Mayo parade depicts the traditional preparation of mole.The mole festival, slated for May 2 and 3, will celebrate Puebla’s influence on world cuisines through its most iconic dish, mole poblano. Poblano, by the way, means “from Puebla.” Chefs from third-generation moleras to U.S. celebrities will offer two days of mole-related talks, cooking demonstrations, and tastings. Artisans will sell handcrafted kitchen wares, such as embroidered aprons, wooden utensils, and talavera ceramics. (Full disclosure: I’ve been working with the state office of international affairs and CANIRAC Puebla, the festival’s key organizers.) As additional Cinco de Mayo events and details are announced in the coming weeks, I’ll strive to update this post accordingly. I hope to see you in Puebla in 2012!
—Rebecca Smith Hurd

Is Puebla on your 2012 bucket list? Check out our hotel and transportation pages for helpful trip-planning information. If you’re interested in hiring a local, English-speaking tour guide, contact us.

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Celebrating Día de los Muertos in Puebla

Monday, October 25th, 2010

A pair of classic Day of the Dead charactersA popular holiday in Mexico, Day of the Dead provides an occasion to honor lost loved ones and pray for their souls. The celebrations, which merge Catholic and indigenous beliefs, typically unfold over the course of a few days, culminating on Nov. 1 (All Saints Day, devoted to children) and Nov. 2 (All Souls Day, dedicated to adults). Traditions vary from region to region, but the sacred tributes almost always involve an altar that’s carefully adorned with gifts for the deceased, such as favorite foods and beverages, personal items related to past passions or hobbies, votive candles and other religious symbols or artifacts, and salt and water to “purify the soul.” These ofrendas vary wildly in style, ranging from humble to extravagant, playful to serious, and historical to innovative. Anyone can be honored, whether it’s a close relative or a beloved celebrity. Most of the altars are located inside private homes and businesses, but people tend to show them off with pride, often welcoming strangers to admire their handiwork.

Puebla isn’t as well-known for its Day of the Dead celebrations as a few other Mexican locales, but visitors who are interested in taking part in — and learning more about — the holiday will find plenty to see and do. Here are a few suggestions.

Downtown Puebla

For a spectacular public Day of the Dead display, head for the Casa de la Cultura (5 Oriente #5, on the other side of the cathedral from the city’s main square). For 40 years now, the cultural center has hosted an annual altar-building contest that offers visitors a chance to see a large, diverse array of ofrendas in one place and even ask their creators questions about them. “The goal is to promote and maintain our traditions of Mexico,” director Margarita Melo Díaz told the local newspaper Sintesis. “Recall that, in 2003, Day of the Dead was recognized as a cultural heritage event by UNESCO, and it is our job as Mexicans to preserve it.” This year, the work of contenders in two categories, traditional and free expression, will be on display from Oct. 29 to Nov. 2, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Previous exhibitions have featured indigenous altars (adorned with beans, grains, seeds, etc.) and modern tributes to the planet Earth, Frida Kahlo, the wrestler Santo, actor Pedro Infante, and even Pope John Paul II. The exhibit is also a fine place to purchase souvenirs, from sugar skulls to handcrafted figurines. Admission is free.

The Institute of Municipal Art and Culture is also sponsoring an altar-building contest, as well as sculpture and calaverita competitions, all around the theme “Death Is a Dream.” Calaveritas are short, playful poems (epitaphs in rhyming verses) that poke fun at living people as if they were dead. The top entries in all three events will be on display in the zócalo from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. If you happen to be in the main square, peek inside the Palacio Municipal (Portal Hidalgo #14), where the local government usually sets up a grand ofrenda in the foyer on the ground floor.

San Andrés Cholula

The Francisco Peláez R. Ethnobotanical Garden (2 Sur #1700) on Oct. 29 and 30 will host Ofrenda entre flores y rituales, a celebration that seeks to re-create Day of the Dead traditions through the arts and people’s sensory contact with nature. Activities include music, folkloric dance, storytelling, and dinner, plus the creation of a collective altar, for which guests are invited to bring bread, candy, candles, flowers — whatever they’d like to contribute. “The event suggests a connection with the history and traditions without making them dogmas or folklore,” the organizers said. The festivities start at 7 p.m.; admission is MX$80 in advance, MX$100 on the days of the event.


An altar in a private home in Huaquechula, Puebla.This small town in Puebla state, about 45 minutes west of the capital city, celebrates Day of the Dead in a big way. The ofrendas, which sometimes cost tens of thousands of pesos to assemble, are impressive structures that measure up to 10 feet high. The altars themselves are often made of cardboard and covered with white or pastel-colored satin; the shiny fabric gives the multilevel tributes a distinctively Huaquechulan look. The first level represents the underworld and bears a photo of the decreased with incense, flowers, and food, explains, which promotes the Atlixco area. “The second level represents the union of heaven and earth or the human and the divine. The third level represents the sky, or the highest divinity, and this is always represented with a cross.”

From Oct. 28 to Nov. 1 every year, many townspeople open their doors to visitors who’d like to pay their respects to the dead. It is customary to leave a candle or a few coins at the altar and to accept food and drink — such as bread and hot chocolate or a tamale and tequila or hibiscus water — from the host family. Tourist tip: Start your tour mid-afternoon at the cultural center on the town square, which provides a map to homes with ofrendas. Look for the trails of marigold petals leading to altars from the street.

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