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An El Día de los Muertos Celebration in La Mesilla New Mexico

Updated on November 2, 2014

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.

Bishops and priests celebrating Mass in front of the newly designated Basilica of San Albino in Mesilla, NM
Bishops and priests celebrating Mass in front of the newly designated Basilica of San Albino in Mesilla, NM | Source
Looking across plaza in center of La Mesilla, NM toward Basilica of San Albino
Looking across plaza in center of La Mesilla, NM toward Basilica of San Albino | Source

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.

Sign announcing the Fiesta in La Mesilla, NM
Sign announcing the Fiesta in La Mesilla, NM | Source
A family's Dia de los Muertos booth in La Mesilla, NM
A family's Dia de los Muertos booth in La Mesilla, NM | Source
Pan de los Muertos - "Bread of the Dead" a special bread celebrating El Dia De Los Muertos
Pan de los Muertos - "Bread of the Dead" a special bread celebrating El Dia De Los Muertos | Source
An El Día de LosMuertos display honoring ancestors
An El Día de LosMuertos display honoring ancestors | Source
A Dia de los Muertos Shadow Box decoration
A Dia de los Muertos Shadow Box decoration | Source
El Dia de los Muertos figurines in a shadow box.
El Dia de los Muertos figurines in a shadow box. | Source
Various Dia de Los Muertos displays with black boards honoring dead of Iraq and Afghan wars in background.
Various Dia de Los Muertos displays with black boards honoring dead of Iraq and Afghan wars in background. | Source
El Dia de los Muertos displays honoring those who have died in Iraq and Afghan wars
El Dia de los Muertos displays honoring those who have died in Iraq and Afghan wars | Source
My wife in midst of the boards honoring troops who have given their lives with San Albino Basilica in background.
My wife in midst of the boards honoring troops who have given their lives with San Albino Basilica in background. | Source
Close up of the board with names of soldiers who have given their lives.
Close up of the board with names of soldiers who have given their lives. | Source
Skeleton overlooking El Dia de los Muertos celebration in plaza in La Mesilla, NM
Skeleton overlooking El Dia de los Muertos celebration in plaza in La Mesilla, NM | Source
A family Dia de los Muertos display.
A family Dia de los Muertos display. | Source
Picture of ancestors in El Día de los Muertos display
Picture of ancestors in El Día de los Muertos display | Source
Skeleton dressed up for El Día de los Muertos
Skeleton dressed up for El Día de los Muertos | Source
El Día de los Muertos celebration in La Mesilla, NM with St. Albino Basilica in background.
El Día de los Muertos celebration in La Mesilla, NM with St. Albino Basilica in background. | Source
Gazebo in plaza in La Mesilla, NM decked out for El Día de los Muertos.
Gazebo in plaza in La Mesilla, NM decked out for El Día de los Muertos. | Source
El Día de los Muertos family shrine
El Día de los Muertos family shrine | Source
Skull is centerpiece in this family's El Día de los Muertos booth in Mesilla, NM
Skull is centerpiece in this family's El Día de los Muertos booth in Mesilla, NM | Source
A traditional Mexican decorated skull made of sugar for El Día de los Muertos
A traditional Mexican decorated skull made of sugar for El Día de los Muertos | Source
Our Lady of Guadalupe and other religious items make up this El Día de los Muertos  shrine
Our Lady of Guadalupe and other religious items make up this El Día de los Muertos shrine | Source

© 2009 Chuck Nugent

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    • barryrutherford profile image

      Barry Rutherford 

      8 years ago from Queensland Australia

      great colour in there cultural photos !

    • Artemus Gordon profile image

      Artemus Gordon 

      9 years ago

      If you truly want to experience Mexican culture this is one day you should be in the country or at least with some of its citizens.

    • Carol the Writer profile image

      Carolyn Blacknall 

      9 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Great article! Beautiful pictures. -Carol

    • Itswritten profile image

      Itswritten 

      9 years ago from Detroit, Michigan

      El Día de los Muertos always sounds better than Halloween. LOl.

    • profile image

      lyricsingray 

      9 years ago

      Sounds fabulous and the right way to travel no doubt. Your pictures are incredible, glad I came by, Thanks, Kimberly

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      9 years ago from Sunny Florida

      Great pictures and interesting hub.

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