#14 Festival de la Calaca

Advertising for the Festival de la Calaca

The last weekend in October the City of Guaymas held a three day cultural event, Festival de la Calaca, Festival of the Skeleton.  The timing of the affair is based on it being the weekend prior to the celebration of Dia de Muertos or Day of the Dead.  Festival de la Calaca kicked off with a mayoral ribbon cutting ceremony and parade.  Each of the three nights, local school groups, dancers, bands and organizations strutted their stuff down the main drag in a procession that brought in big crowds.  We arrived 45 minutes early to grab our piece of the curb. After much anticipation we witnessed baton twirlers, horn blowers, mexican dancers, garbage can drummers, people balancing water glasses on their heads and cute kids dressed in authentic costume shuffle down the street for the 15 minute parade.  While it was short and sweet, the troops marching by were excited to have an enthusiastic crowd.

The entry gate to the free event was marked with colorful advertisements and happy greeters.  Surrounding the Plaza de Armas, Main Square, vendors set up many booths and food carts.  There you could purchase toys, sugar skulls, balloons, cotton candy, tacos, tamales, churros and more.  Ornamental, bright, tissue paper cuttings known as papel picado, hung across the streets making the entire area burst with color. 

School groups and individuals set up altars celebrating the lives of famous Mexicans and others who put Guaymas on the map.  Artist, Frida Khalo, was represented as was actress, Maria Felix. There was even an altar for Charlie Chaplin. Who knew he had a shotgun style wedding of sorts just a few miles south of Guaymas in the town of Empalme. 

An army of students working on their Bachelor’s of Gastronomy degrees from the local Vizcaya University of the Americas baked for days preparing for their contribution to the festival. They baked and the used pan de muertos, bread of the dead, decorated with colored sugar to create a gigantic Catrina.  This elegant, skeleton faced woman symbolizes death in the Mexican culture, sort of like the Grim Reaper.   The tiny community was bustling with families enjoying the night.

In another area, stages were set up hosting singers and dancers from preschool age to semi professional showing their skills.  Artists and art students displayed the creations in an artwork garden of sorts. Their work ranged from paintings to sculpture to paper mache and photography.  Lifesize paper mache skeletons dressed in funky attire were standing watch all around the square for visitors to pose with for a quick pic to remember the night. 

An extremely unique installation of student painted umbrellas entitled Bajo Su Sombra, Under His Shadow, offered a place for quiet reflection.  The umbrellas were hung upside down in the open air portion of the Palacio Municipal de Guaymas or Guaymas City Hall.  Each umbrella represented a student’s depiction of the idea of death.  While you’d think these would be creepy, mostly they were just beautiful.

After three days of lively celebration the food carts and vendor tables returned to their usual locations.  The streets were swept and the art relocated. Festival de la Calaca wound down but in doing so it opened the door for one of Mexico’s most celebrated and personal holidays, Dia de Muertos.

November 4, 2019

“The thing I hate most about skeletons is you can never tell when they’re smiling.”

– Author, Stephen Blackmoore

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