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Mexicans Mark Day of The Dead

November 2, 2000

SAN GREGORIO ATLAPULCO, Mexico (AP) _ For Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebrations Thursday, Rosamaria Cervantes and her family sat around a roaring bonfire awaiting the return of her late father, Andres.

Next to her, 8-year-old daughter Alma Rosa was dressed as a witch for Halloween _ the holiday recently imported from across the border.

Mexicans dress up and go to Halloween parties, but they say Freddy Krueger masks and werewolf costumes will never replace the centuries-old custom of contacting the dead with prayer, song and offerings of food and flowers.

``I know when he comes back and it’s beautiful, because I don’t feel so alone,″ Cervantes, who tended the fire in the pre-dawn hours Thursday, said of her father, who died eight years ago.

Fires are believed to help guide wandering souls back to their families, according to Day of the Dead tradition. In some towns, fires flicker outside almost every doorway.

At a Mexico City graveyard, a couple adorned a tomb with brilliant yellow cempasuchitl flowers _ thought to guide the dead back to loved ones _ as their daughter clambered over her grandparent’s grave dressed as a devil.

In San Gregorio Atlapulco, 30 miles south, the cemetery became a sea of flickering candles, with lilies, chrysanthemums and cempasuchitl spread like a carpet over the tombs.

In one corner, a group of rowdy men gathered at a friend’s grave, hoisting glasses of cane liquor and singing the songs of heartbreak their late friend favored.

Nearby, Beto Espinosa, 27, and his friends sang and played the guitar at his long-dead grandmother’s grave.

``We try to pick songs she liked when she was alive,″ Espinosa said, singing ``Amor Eterno″ with the lyrics: ``Surely, sooner or later, I will be in the same tomb as you.″

Mexicans appear to be comfortable with both Halloween and the Day of the Dead.

A poll published Thursday in the newspaper Reforma showed that 71 percent of those surveyed still visit loved ones at the cemetery on Day of the Dead, while 76 percent said they did not attend Halloween parties.

At the same time, 59 percent of those polled said they celebrated Halloween with their children, and 53 percent said they didn’t follow the tradition of constructing altars for the dead in their homes.

Halloween festivities take place anywhere from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2, while Day of the Dead is celebrated on Nov. 1 _ All Saints’ Day _ and Nov. 2, All Souls’ Day.

Cervantes says she doesn’t see any contradiction in mixing the two holidays, one hundreds of years old and the other a recent novelty from the United States.

``People like to dress up, and go to Halloween parties,″ she said. ``It’s good to have fun with it.″

But some fear pre-Hispanic traditions such as Day of the Dead may be overshadowed by holidays like Halloween _ one that has different roots and is immensely more marketable.

``Our dead are not aggressive or threatening for us,″ said Carmen Anzures, a professor at Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology.

``Halloween comes from very different roots, where people were afraid to leave their houses for fear of the spirits of the dead.″

Watching shoppers’ glee over mechanical Halloween toys, it’s hard to see how Day of the Dead could survive.

But market vendor Miriam Dani quickly sets any doubters straight. ``These Halloween things are for little kids or office parties. But look what people are buying.″

Indeed, two women whoop at a spider that rattles its web on command and a ghost that bellows at the clap of a hand.

But many more are cradling huge bunches of cempasuchitl flowers, the flaming beacons for their beloved dead.

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