The Associated Press
November 1, 2000

Mexicans Mark Day of the Dead


          MEXICO CITY (AP) -- Mexicans left the glitzy costume parties of
          Halloween behind on Wednesday and turned to the centuries-old
          tradition of marking Dia de Los Muertos -- the Day of the Dead.

          Markets did a booming business in the yellow cempasuchil flowers and
          candles believed to attract the spirits of the dead to home altars and
          cemeteries for annual visits with their surviving relatives. Quiet graveside
          gatherings were mixed with the more irreverent customs of the day, such
          as eating Pan de Muerto, or Dead Bread, which is decorated with dough
          shaped to look like bones.

          The Day of the Dead is celebrated on two days in Mexico: All Saints'
          Day, Nov. 1, and All Souls' Day, Nov. 2. Its ceremonies mix Roman
          Catholic beliefs with pre-Hispanic Indian customs in which food and
          drink is offered to welcome back the souls of the departed, who are
          thought to offer help, protection or counsel to the living.

          Marketgoers on Wednesday bought candy skulls for friends -- complete
          with their names -- and some Mexicans composed humorous ``death
          poems'' lamenting the passing of friends, co-workers and public figures
          still very much alive.

          One such poem, published Wednesday in the newspaper Reforma, was
          dedicated to the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. It suggested
          the party's Day of the Dead this year came on July 2, when it lost
          presidential elections for the first time in 71 years.

          In the southern state of Chiapas, Tzotzil Indians entered cemeteries with
          brass bands and copal incense intended to wake the dead.

          ``The music is an invitation to the dead to leave their tombs and visit their
          families, and eat what they liked in life,'' said Mariano Hernandez, an
          organizer of the festivities in the town of Zinacantan. On Thursday, the
          same bands will lead the dead of Zinacantan back to their tombs.

          In Mexico City, Emilia Alonso Aranda and her daughter, Martha
          Margarita, had come to Dolores cemetery to spread cempasuchil flowers
          over Alonso's husband's grave and stay awhile.

          ``When my children have a problem, I always tell them to ask the advice
          of their father, God and the Virgin of Guadalupe,'' said Alonso, whose
          husband died in 1990.

          Throughout the cemetery, people sat beside tombs, chatting quietly with
          each other and talking to the dead. Some hired trios of musicians who
          wait outside graveyards offering to sing the favorite songs of the dead at
          their graves.

          Martha Margarita had brought her boyfriend along to greet her father.
          Later, Alonso and her children planned an offering at home with her late
          husband's favorite food and drink -- stuffed chilies and chicken in a
          chocolate-and-chile sauce and a list of alcoholic beverages including
          mescal, vodka, cane liquor and pulque, a fermented drink made from the
          agave plant.

          ``It's a beautiful time to remember the dead,'' Alonso said. ``The good
          things about them, and the bad, because they're human and they're still
          with us.''

          Her husband's tombstone echoes that belief. It reads, ``His body has
          gone, but his soul is still in our hearts.''