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Day of the Dead in Merida

This year, we just *had* to go down to the Zocalo to see the Day of the Dead altars. We had heard or read that they would be there Saturday night. Well, for the third year in a row, we got there too late and they were all taken down. There were a few guys still disassembling things, a few piles of rocks and something burning… but we had missed the altars yet again.

So we decided to salvage the trip by continuing on to the mercado and picking up a few sugar skulls and other cute candy things for our own Day of the Dead altar. The city has recently opened a brand new 3 story building for a new mercado. We were pleased to see that they have NOT evicted people from the old building. Instead, all the people who had stands on the streets and in the squares are now in the new building. So the streets are much easier to walk and drive on. And the little plaza in front of the mercado is actually now a nice place to sit.

Inside the old mercado, things are a little less crowded but relatively unchanged in the area that we frequent. We like to go up the two or three main aisles where the Mayan ladies in their huipiles sit all day, selling their wares. They sell fresh flowers from their gardens, home made Mayan food, masa (the dough made from cornmeal), veggies from their garden and other seasonal things.

On this trip, we decided to start by buying some flowers for the altar. We bought marigolds, the traditional Day of the Dead flower, and a bunch of purple flowers whose name we don’t know. Two bouquets cost $10 pesos (about $1 USD). Then we moved on to the food section of the mercado. We love looking at the vegetables but didn’t need any. What we did need was honey. We found a tiny little stand – no more than a closet really – where a very nice older woman was sitting watching a very tiny TV. Her wares were stacked up on a counter at the front of the closet. She seemed to have some honey there. “Miel?” We asked, pointing to a Coke bottle full of dark stuff. “Si! Está muy bueno! Puedes probarlo…” (Yes! Its delicious! You can try some…) and she proceeded to pour some very dark brown honey on the back of an our outstretched hand. Yes, it was delicious!

So we parted with $24 pesos and put the bottle in a bolsa (bag). We have bought honey in Coke bottles, babyfood bottles and even tequila bottles. It’s fresh from the countryside and muy delicioso!

On to the candy stalls… a special treat this time of year. A lot of the stalls have the same thing: various sizes of white sugar candy skulls with people’s names on them on a little slip of paper. We found a stall that seemed to have a larger selection of different things than most, and spent about ten dollars on various things. Candy skulls, a candy coffin, a candy ghost holding a beer mug, some marzipan corn and peyote buttons (we’re pretty sure that’s what they are…). And our favorite, four skeletons dressed in ponchos, holding up a casket with a skeleton inside, and everyone holding a very tiny bottle of Corona beer. This one is made of plastic and cloth and will undoubtedly grace my altars in the years to come.

On the way home, at dusk, we stumbled upon the beginnings of a Day of the Dead parade. We’ve lived here for four years and didn’t know they had a parade! As you can see in the photo, there were women and men dressed up in traditional Mayan dress, with their faces painted to resemble calaveras (skeletons). There was a four-piece band that sounded pretty good, and was playing music reminiscent of New Orleans. There were a few people dressed similarly, but on stilts, and old men lighting firecrackers. Everyone was carrying candles, and the parade was led by some of Merida’s calesas (horse-drawn buggies) as they wound their way, dancing and laughing, down Calle 60.

It was a sight to behold. We went right home, set up our own altar, with candles, the flowers, all the candy skulls and other goodies from the mercado, and pictures of our loved ones who have passed on. We completed the scene with a glass of scotch for Working Gringa’s grandma and a glass of red wine for Working Gringo’s dad.

Salud, muertos!

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11 Responses to “Day of the Dead in Merida”

  1. Love your web-site. We returned just a few weeks ago from a fabulous time in the Yucatan. I’ve been in a post-trip funk and figured the best way out of it is to plan the next trip – we’ve definitely been bitten by the Yucatecan bug, just not the one you show on the beach next to the pack of cigarettes. We will be in either Merida or Campeche during the Day of the Dead festivities. What do you recommend doing and where do you recommend doing it. I definitely don’t want to miss the the altars!

  2. Hola Bonnie,

    We’ve always seemed to miss out on Day of the Dead here in Merida, usually showing up to the zocalo a couple hours after the altars have been taken down, (although we somehow always get our fill of mucbil pollo!) Maybe we’ll get lucky this year.

    From what we’ve heard, another great place to be is Hoctun cemetery near Izamal. Here’s a “serving suggestion” travel itinerary during Hanal Pixan from the Los Dos Cooking School’s Fall Culinary Package.

    Buen provecho!

  3. Going to be in Merida on Oct 30, 2006. When and where will the alters be erected?


  4. As far as we know, the altars are erected in the main plaza downtown and along Calle 60. Last year, we saw a Day of the Dead parade down Calle 60. And as usual, we went looking for the altars on the morning of November 1 in the plaza, and they were all gone. You have to definitely go a few nights before and keep checking. They don’t keep them up for very long.

  5. [...] Last year, as our most faithful readers will remember, we missed la muestra in the Plaza Grande, arriving a few hours too late. But we did make it to the mercado for the sugar skulls and built our own altar to our own ancestors (that’s Working Gringa’s grandmother on the right inside the blue box, and Working Gringo’s father on the left). We included the traditional marigolds, candles, incense, a shot of Johnny Walker Black Label, a few cigarettes and a small bottle of Mitsuoko perfume. The cigarettes were for Dad, the perfume for Oma, and we let the two of them fight over the whisky. [...]

  6. That is so COOL!

  7. Hello everyone, We are visiting your fair city this October from the 19th through the 31st and leaving for the coast on the first of November. Can you please share with us the events and happenings that we might expect (with whens and wheres) while vlsiting? We would really like to see some Hanal Pixan events etc…
    We will be staying at the Casa del Balam but will have a car to travel to events if needed.
    Thanks for your assistance!

  8. i hope i can lean more about this because i like what i just read.

  9. Hi all, we are in Merida from Oct 30-nov 5 and want some Dia de Los Muertos. Is there a good cemetery nearby to experience this? maybe not even in Merida, but away… in a village? or? where and when exactly are the parades?

    Most stuff on nov 2? or all saints day – nov 1st? any tips much appreciated!

  10. Andrew,
    As you can read in this weeks Events column (click here), there will be Day of the Dead festivities in the Plaza Grande all day on Friday, October 31. There MAY be other things going on in the cemetery, but we have not been able to confirm that. Traditionally, most Day of the Dead celebrations in the Yucatan are done in the privacy of the family home.
    We have also heard, but have not seen personally, that the cemetery in the town of Hoctun (near Izamal) is quite festive on the Day of the Dead.
    Oh, and by the way, the cemetery in Merida can be reached by heading south on Calle 66, past the park of L’Ermita to about Calle 90. You’ll see the entrance to two different cemeteries (or panteons) on your right. The first entrance is to the larger cemetery.

  11. [...] Working Gringos first Day of the Dead [...]


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