The Day of the Dead and the Feria del Alfeñique
Posted by Ted Campbell
For a more recent post about the Day of the Dead in Mexico, please click here.
November 2 is el Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) in Mexico. Starting in early October, the Feria del Alfeñique is set up in central Toluca, with vendors, skeleton displays and shrines of offerings for dead relatives from various ethnic groups and universities in the State of Mexico.
The Ofrenda (Offering)
On the Day of the Dead, Mexicans remember their dead relatives by placing a shrine in their homes full of fruit, sweets, and sometimes booze. If Grandpa used to like a special tequila or whiskey, then in the ofrenda it goes, along with Grandma’s favorite snacks and candies.
The Cemetery Visit
Along with the ofrenda at home, many people pay a visit to the cemetery to decorate graves of dead relatives and spend some time with them.
Some people stay in the cemetery all night, drinking beer, tequila, or mescal. If they drink, then they share with the dead, splashing a little on the ground now and then. All night in cemeteries across Mexico there is music, singing, and praying, and light from candles and fires.
The Feria del Alfeñique (Alfeñique fair) in Toluca
Here in Toluca, about a hundred vendors set up in the Portales, a pedestrian mall and series of arches downtown, and sell all things related to the holiday. This is the Feria del Alfeñique, a great way to sample skull-and-bone-shaped Mexican candies.
Big sugar skulls called calaveras are the most representative candies of the Day of the Dead. The image, with its colorful trim and toothy, laughing mouth, can be seen everywhere – on plastic banners for restaurants advertising their special meal, cut out of decorative pastel paper, and on sugary candy of many sizes.
Aside from sweets you can get little handicrafts for your ofrenda. My favorites are the calavaritas, little skeletons at work, such as doctors, teachers, musicians or strippers. They are great gifts – buy the one with the same job as your friend. Last year I bought a taco cook for a friend who’s a chef. They cost only a few dollars, a great deal for being handmade.
Toluca is a little off the tourist track, but it’s an easy trip from Mexico City – only an hour or two. Take a bus from the Observatorio station in Mexico City, and then a taxi (30 pesos) to downtown Toluca (centro) and the Portales.
November 1 or 2 are the nights for a cemetery visit, but if you come to Toluca anytime during the month before the Day of the Dead, you can get a good taste of the tradition at the Feria del Alfeñique right here in the center of town.
For more about the different kinds of candies on this holiday, please read: