The celebrations around Day of the Dead, principally in Latin American countries where there is or has been a significant indigenous presence, are fascinating because Catholic traditions have combined with indigenous ones along a common thread: the remembrance of those that have passed.
In our country, these celebrations have become more and more visible over the past twenty years, and now it's common to find altars and offerings in places where the tradition didn't use to exist, were it was celebrated only by recent arrivals from the countryside, or where the tradition was on its way to extinction as a result of the commercial and cultural onslaught of Halloween, that day so poorly understood both in Mexico and among our neighbors to the north.
In the state of Guanajuato and its capital city, the celebrations around the Day of the Dead have traditionally had a very particular set of characteristics. The celebration has revolved around a visit to the cemetery to bring flowers to deceased relatives, arrange their resting places and, in some cases, have a meal in their presence. And in their houses, townspeople have offered family and friends cajeta made from sweet potato, walnuts or guava on aniseed bread or the special bread known as muertitos.
Another tradition has been the offerings and altars for the deceased. These have always been very serious and sober. The typical altar has had a purple altar cloth, a crucifix, a photo of the deceased loved one, several of his or her most prized possessions, water, salt, and a sprinkling of straw.
The closest thing to how the Day of the Dead is celebrated today are the traditions of the municipalities near the state of Michoacán and in the few indigenous communities in our state. There has also been a notable influence on today's celebrations by the large numbers of people who have come to live in Guanajuato from Oaxaca, Veracruz and Tamaulipas, specifically to work at the Pemex oil refinery in the city of Salamanca from the mid '60s to the mid '70s. These relatively recent arrivals brought their recipes and their particular styles of offerings.
Some parts of Mexico are known for their elaborate offerings on the Day of the Dead. Guanajuato is known for its amazing craftwork: alfeñique sugar figures and all kinds of handmade toys and curiosities.