“We do this as our families have taught us. And we feel an obligation to our parents, that when they die, we have to continue on with it,” Guzmán says. “It’s like a chain, where we go passing on the tradition.”
Instead of spending Night of the Dead in Janitzio, curious travelers would be better off hiring a guide and hopscotching among the smaller towns along the lake. [See sidebar for guide recommendations.] Villages such as Járacuaro, Arocutin, and Cucuchucho celebrate Night of the Dead slightly differently from each other, and each also specializes in a specific craft. Among the wares are black-glazed pottery, copper pots and jewelry, white ceramics, straw hats, embroidered textiles, and wooden masks.
Some tour agencies, such as EcoMexico, will take travelers directly to the artisans’ studios, which can be a humbling experience. New York resident Michelle Roos founded EcoMexico as an ecotourism agency in 2006 after falling in love with the Mexican people and the culture.
“The culture is phenomenal and relatively unknown to foreigners,” Roos says. “The Purépecha culture is beautiful, and living and breathing.”
According to Nuñez, few tourists who come to the region for the nighttime celebration choose to stay awake until sunrise in the cemeteries, as the locals do. But Night of the Dead is an experience that he and hundreds of thousands of others hold dear as they pause for a night to reflect and remember.
“People don’t die when there are people who remember them,” Nuñez says. “The real death is when no one remembers you. And that’s a little bit of the idea behind this celebration: to remember all of the dead and to feel them among us.”