Mexico’s Day of the Dead is one of the country’s most revered holidays, but for most of its history, it never had a parade … until this year.
More than 100,000 attendees crowded the Paseo de la Reforma avenue in Mexico City in full garb on Saturday. Obviously, there’s nothing like a parade without a float, or giant puppets, so those were supplied as well.
Historically, Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico are quieter, more family-based affairs, but after a large-scale parade was created for the James Bond film Spectre, the country’s tourism board decided to go ahead and make the parade a real event.
“Day of the Dead is always something in Mexico City that is celebrated, though in a more serious way,” Enrique de la Madrid, the country’s tourism secretary, told the Guardian. “It’s a deeply rooted tradition in Mexico, but what we decided to do is a festival.”
Day of the Dead is a syncretic holiday that has its roots in Aztec traditions, but was eventually combined with the Catholic holidays of All Souls’ Day and All Saints’ Day. Families typically build altars to deceased loved ones and decorate them with food, candles and ephemera dedicated to the deceased’s memory.
It is not, as it is occasionally referred to as, “Mexican Halloween,” and has persisted as a celebration in its own right despite the import of the American holiday.
The parade was not popular with everyone. Esteban Illades, editor of the magazine Nexos, derided the event as a “cheap stunt.”
“They film James Bond here and now we have the ‘traditional Day of the Dead parade,’ ” Illades tweeted. “Let’s see what happens when (the mayor) finishes reading The Da Vinci Code.”
But others, including Shawn Haley, a Canadian living in south Oaxaca, see the parade as the natural outgrowth of a holiday that has grown larger over time.
“We are seeing the transition from a private family celebration with folks who truly believed the dead family members returned home to a much more community oriented event [which] has removed much of the sincere belief,” Haley told the Guardian.
“In the smaller villages, the private family celebration of the Day of the Dead goes on … and family is what keeps the Day of the Dead going.”