Even the dead will be quarantined due to Covid-19 and because of this, cemeteries will not have as many visitors as usual on Nov. 2, the Day of the Dead. Only the old cemetery of San Juan de Dios will be open to the public, but with several restrictions. Pre-registration will be required to enter, with only 30 people allowed in at a time, and visits limited to 30 minutes.
The living, on the other hand, can still enjoy the day because they will be able to buy their alfeñiques (traditional sweets in the shape of skulls, animals, or food), used as offerings. They will also be able to enjoy altars and offerings (some monumental, others less so), virtual concerts, and an exhibition of giant alebrijes—fantastical zoomorphic sculptures. They will also have the opportunity to admire large-scale catrinas (elegantly clothed skeletons) and skulls. All these activities will be done within the health parameters set by the municipality. See our companion article “Locations of altars and offerings” for a map of altars and offerings.
San Juan de Dios: by appointment only
Few Sanmiguelenses have relatives buried in this cemetery, so visits there have decreased. “It’s a historical cemetery where crowd control is possible, and that is why we decided to open it,” said Paulina Cadena, director of the city’s Culture and Traditions Department. San Juan de Dios cemetery will be open on Nov. 1 and 2, but only by appointment, made by calling 415 45670. Visitors will be allowed to enter in small groups and can stay for only 15 minutes.
The cemetery is a historical site that was reopened in 2010 after its restoration.
According to historian Graciela Cruz, the first burial at this cemetery was on Nov. 2, 1770. The man, an outsider, was found dying on the steps to the Parroquia, and was taken to the hospital which is now the Hermanos Aldama School. He died there and was buried in the adjoining cemetery. Cruz says that the cemetery has not been used for burials for the past 50 years. Prior to that, it had operated for 200 years, from 1770 to 1970, during which time it accepted the dead from all social classes and ethnic groups. Since San Miguel was a trading crossroads in those early years, visitors and merchants from all over Mexico and from different countries passed through it. Some died here and were buried in the San Juan de Dios cemetery. “It can be said that it was the first public cemetery, because it belonged to a hospital run by the government, although these terms were not used at that time,” said Cruz. She added that the periods when the cemetery had the largest number of burials was during epidemics and famines, mainly from 1785-1786. During the war of independence, from 1810-1820, the cemetery also received the dead of both the insurgent and royalist troops.
Among the famous individuals buried there are the conspirators José María Arévalo and Miguel María Malo. Luis Malo, Miguel’s brother, died alongside Ignacio Allende—San Miguel’s independence hero. During that war, Miguel Malo defended the town of San Miguel el Grande (today Allende) from the attack by the bandit Bernardo de Lara, known as El Huacal, who was also buried in San Juan de Dios. Ignacio Allende’s younger sister, Mariana, is also buried there. Although the headstones can no longer be seen, burial records in the Parroquia archives provide the information.
Dying on Day of the Dead
In San Miguel de Allende there are nine cemeteries; of these, eight are public. Two are located within the urban area, one is on the way to Celaya, another is in the Jardines neighborhood, and the rest are in rural areas. Rubén González, director of Public Services, stated that in order to avoid large gatherings this year, the cemeteries will be closed to visitors from Oct. 29 to Nov. 2, and will reopen on Nov. 3. Anyone who is buried on the Day of the Dead may be accompanied by a funeral procession of up to 50 visitors to a public or private cemetery. González requests that people not attend burials and instead place offerings in their own homes.
Oliverio Fernández, administrator of Jardines Nueva Vida, a private cemetery, told us it will be closed from Oct. 29 to Nov. 4. “We will place flowers on the graves by special arrangement; there is a charge, and people just have to call us,” he said. He also stated that like the public cemeteries, this one will only open for burials.
No parades this year, but there will be alebrijes and photographs
Eric Cházaro, who has organized the Catrina Parade for around 15 years, told us about its beginnings. When the Catrina Parade was first conceived, the idea was to make it a “Venetian” festival, with all participants disguised as a catrín or catrina. The image first appeared after Mexican caricaturist Jose Guadalupe Posada published an illustration in 1873 showing a skull adorned with a European-styled plumed hat. It appears that the goal of a large festival has been achieved since, in recent years, thousands of people gather for catrina parades, dressed up with painted “skull-faces.” However, due to the pandemic, all catrina parades have been cancelled this year, including the giant alebrijes parade. Instead, according to Paulina Cadena, there will only be one exhibition where several alebrijes from the Linares family (some made specifically for San Miguel) will be exhibited in the Paseo de los Conspiradores.
“The idea was that prior to their placement in Paseo de los Conspiradores, the alebrijes would parade through the city. We were still hopeful, however given the contingency, we will only exhibit them on the Paseo,” said Cadena. The pieces will be on display from Oct. 28 until Feb. 2021.
Alfeñiques for the home
Rubén González told Atención that Public Services will be focused on crowd control. But in order to support the reactivation of the economy for the merchants who prepare alfeñiques (sugar paste decorative candies) three months in advance, it was decided to allow stalls in two locations. At the traditional Plaza de la Soledad there will be 24 stalls, and there will be another 16 stalls in Plaza de los Insurgentes (also called Garibaldi). “Let’s hope this is the first time we separate them, and the last,” said González. The alfeñique markets will generally open from Mon-Sun, 9am-7pm., and will remain open until Nov. 3.
These figures, which are part of popular culture, are made of paper-mâché. The traditional story is that when Mexico City-born artist Pedro Linares fell ill, his family was able to cure him using herbs. However during his illness, he apparently had hallucinations caused by the plants. During this bout, Pedro saw zoomorphic creatures that he named “alebrije.” He attempted to explain his visions by reproducing them with cardboard, as this was a medium he had mastered. He never imagined that these pieces would become a part of Mexican culture.
On Oct. 28, a large-format photography exhibition will open on Calle San Francisco. It will include images about the celebration of the dead in different cemeteries and regions of Mexico. The photographs were taken by Witness Visual Storytellers and collaborators. Along calle Canal, another photography exhibit of catrina parades will also be on display. These are photographs taken by locals and visitors.