An El Día de los Muertos Celebration in La Mesilla New Mexico
A Pleasant Surprise
October 22, 2009
One of the nice things about traveling leisurely, with general plans and a general destination in mind, but in no hurry to be in a particular place at a particular time, is unexpected finds.
Being flexible with plans and not adverse to wandering off course can result in surprising discoveries.
About a year ago my wife and I decided to take an extra week's vacation in the late autumn in order to use up some timeshare points that were about to expire.
Leaving Tucson after work on a Friday evening we headed east intending to spend the night in Las Cruces, New Mexico and then head toward Santa Fe where we had reservations at our timeshare beginning on Sunday.
While in the office to check out of our motel, I stopped by a tourist information rack to see if there was anything of interest in the area before heading out.
I saw some mention of an old mission church and asked the clerk at the desk how to get there.
The clerk gave me directions to a place called La Mesilla and we set out to find it. La Mesilla or Mesilla turned out to be nearby and was a suburb of sorts of Las Cruces.
Actually, La Mesilla was established before Las Cruces which was originally located to the northeast of Mesilla.
Las Cruces ended up growing more rapidly than Mesilla and not only replaced La Mesilla as the county seat of surrounding Doña Ana County but also grew and expanded until it reached Mesilla.
While still a separate political entity, La Mesilla today is basically a part of greater metropolitan Las Cruces.
La Mesilla turned out to be a quaint little town with the flavor of Old Mexico.
The old mission turned out to have been replaced with a newer, French style church in the late nineteenth century which in turn was replaced by the current Romanesque style church in 1908.
Like its predecessors the current San Albino Church faces the old town square in the middle of the town.
After parking on a side street we approached the plaza and found the area in front of San Albino packed with people attending an outdoor mass.
It turned out that the mass was being celebrated by an archbishop, two bishops and I don't know how many priests and the celebration was a dedication of the raising of the church to the status of a Minor Basilica.
Filling the rest of the plaza were booths for the celebration of El Día de los Muertos, the Mexican Day of the Dead holiday which takes place on November first and second.
El Día de los Muertos Celebration in the Plaza
Following the Mass, the El Día de Los Muertos celebration in the plaza got underway in earnest.
Families and groups had set up tables to honor their ancestors with pictures and other mementos of relatives who had passed on.
Surrounding these were candles, pan de muertos or bread of the dead, and other traditional decorations for this holiday.
In the middle, some group had set up a series of poster boards honoring the memory of all the troops who have given their lives in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This was a simple memorial with a little origami piece of art pasted on a blackboard with the soldier's name and where he died. A reminder that not all the dead being honored were from the distant past.
© 2009 Chuck Nugent