Day of the Dead – the Biggest Fiesta in México for Dead People

Day of the Dead La Catrina in Guanajuato.

It was a balmy 86º November evening when I found myself slowly shuffling down the main street of Mérida, Yucatan surrounded by a shitload of people carrying candles and dressed as dead people. I was in a crowd of thousands and all I heard was silence. We were quietly walking to the cemetery and I was about to experience my first Day of the Dead, aka Día de los Muertos (Spanish), aka Hanal Pixán (Mayan).

Of course I had heard of Day of the Dead and thought that it was just a bunch of people dressing up like skeletons. “Oh, that’s just like Halloween!” Nope, not a damn thing like Halloween.

Shit’s about to get real. | Photo: Marival Resorts

I had been living in Mérida for about 10 months by the time October 2011 rolled around. Once October started, everyone in the city began planning for this upcoming, um, holiday?, event?, party?, celebration? The name ‘Day of the Dead’ doesn’t sound like much of a party, but people were acting like this was the most important fiesta of the year.

Day of the Dead is in fact a three day celebration each year from October 31 – November 2nd. It’s an opportunity to commemorate family and friends that have “advanced on their eternal journey.” In the Mexican culture, death is viewed as a natural part of the human cycle. During this time, the living family members pray for the temporary return of their loved ones who now reside in the afterlife/world/place. They share stories of the ancestors who have passed and celebrate their former lives.

Aztecs – Lady of the Dead

La Calavera Catrina by Illustrator José Guadalupe Posada | Photo: Wikipedia

The ancient origin of Día de los Muertos in México goes back to the Aztec festival dedicated to the ‘Lady of the Dead’, which in modern times is referred to as La Calavera Catrina. The artist José Guadalupe Posada was the first person to illustrate the goddess in a zinc etching in 1910. She’s super hot, as far as skeletons go.

So anyway, in Aztec mythology, this Lady was named Mictēcacihuātl and was queen of the underworld. She ruled over the afterlife with her hubby. No one ever mentions him, but she was responsible for watching over the bones of the dead and presiding over the ancient festivals of the dead. #respect

The Aztecs in México and central America celebrated Mictēcacihuātl for the entire 8th month of the Aztec calendar year (sometime in the middle of the summer). They partied, danced and sang instead of mourning because being sad for dead people was considered an insult to them. Therefore, they fiesta’ed with food, drink and activities that the dead had enjoyed while they were alive.

Allison with a real-life, dead Catrina and her skeleton dog. | Photo: TexMex Fun Stuff

The two most familiar symbols of the Aztec version of Day of the Dead are Catrinas and Catrins (dead chicks and dead dudes, respectively). You will either see these images as calacas or calaveras (skulls and skeletons, respectively). The calaveras are always dressed up in colorful outfits and having a blast dancing, drinking, flailing around and generally enjoying the afterlife. If that is what death is all about then rock on!

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The calacas, being just dead heads, are usually hanging out on an altar that their family created with a big smile on their face…happily watching the living pay tribute and tell stories about them!

Spanish Catholics – All Saints Day

Day of the Dead girl in Merida v1
Girl Dressed as a Catrina for Day of the Dead in Merida. | Photo: Neil Haapamaki, The Diplomat Hotel Merida

The Spanish invaded México in the 1500’s and brought with them their Catholic religion. This may not sound very Christian, but basically they made a point of enslaving the Aztecs and telling them their customs and beliefs were stupid. Typical evangelicals. The synthesis of Catholicism with the Aztecs’ tradition results in an adjustment of the dates to make Day of the Dead more in line with existing Catholic death-celebrating holidays.

The Spanish moved the celebration from the 8th month of the Aztec year to October 31st – November 2nd of the Gregorian calendar so that it would land on All Saints and All Souls days. Pushy af, but here’s why…

All Saints Day, according to Christianity.com has this origin…”In the early years when the Roman Empire persecuted Christians, so many martyrs died for their faith, that the Church set aside special days to honor them…In the 8th century, All Saints Day was changed by Pope Gregory III to today’s date–November 1. People prepared for their celebration with a night of vigil on Hallows’ Eve — Halloween (possibly because of the strong holdover influence of the Celtic Samhain festival which many Christians in Ireland, Britain Scotland and Wales had continued to observe).”

Mayans – Hanal Pixán

Hanal Pixán altar in Merida, Yucatan | Photo: Mark Callum

The Mayans in the Yucatan Peninsula refer to Day of the Dead / Dia de los Muertos as Hanal Pixán and it lasts for 3 days starting October 31st. Sound familiar? Well that’s because the Spanish conquered them too.

Mayan families construct altars in their homes honoring their lost relatives/buddies. These altars include the dead’s favorite food, drinks and games plus they add candles, pictures and symbols of their lives. They even go as far as moving the furniture in their houses to create a pathway from the front door to the altars to help their loved ones’ souls know where to arrive. You know, rearranging all the furniture for guests.

Day of the Dead altar.
Altar for Family. This ole boy obviously loved his sweet breads, tamales and Mezcal! The beans are weird. | Photo: Neil Haapamaki, The Diplomat Hotel Merida

The first night of Hanal Pixán (Oct. 31) is reserved for celebrating the all too short lives of the children whom have passed. Their offerings include toys, chocolates and sweets. The adult souls are not honored until November 1st.

To honor the souls of adults, boozy treats are placed on the altars with candles and their favorite foods. I’m now making a point to start my Day of the Dead celebrations on November 1st for this reason. I’m avoiding the first night because I’m not into kids, especially dead ones. #goingtohell

They close out the 3 day death-fest with a long, slow, silent walk through the center of town. They call it “Paseo de Ánimas” or “Promenade of the Souls”. Everyone wears typical Mayan clothing and have calaca sugar skull faces painted on by street artists. The whole town walks to the main cemetery…so THAT is what I was caught up in that November night in 2011!

Day of the Dead in Merida.
A Catrina and Catrin in the Día de los Muertos celebration in Merida, Yucatan | Photo: The Merida Yucatan Bulletin

Then suddenly the mood changes and a celebration breaks out in the cemetery! It’s magical and like a scene straight out of Pixar’s Coco. People were actually dancing, laughing and decorating the graves of their loved ones with flowers, candles, pictures and gifts. Beers were popping open. Stark difference from the silent mode we were in for blocks and blocks! I def prefer this part of the ritual.

Gringos – Halloween

Adorbs, right? Meh. | Photo: https://www.news-press.com

I really did think Day of the Dead was the same as Halloween and it turns out I wasn’t completely wrong. Halloween (All Hallows’ Eve) originated in Ireland and is celebrated on October 31st. As you know most Irish are Catholics and they had the same idea as the Spanish when it came to bastardizing holidays.

So basically European Catholics wanted to celebrate the night before All Saints Day. Which is also known as “A Feast for All Saints” OR “All Hallows’ Day”. So Halloween is the eve of this Christian holiday. Traditionally in Ireland, Spain and other Catholic countries, it is common for families to attend church and visit cemeteries in order to lay flowers and candles on the graves of their deceased loved ones. It’s all coming full circle.

Dia de Los Muertos Calacas
Allison spending time with and dressing up as Catrinas for Day of the Dead | Photo: TexMex Fun Stuff

So Halloween / All Hallow’s Eve is the night that the descendants of Mayans and Aztecs celebrate the souls of dead children. Somehow this morphed into Americans thinking, “Hey, the way to celebrate the souls of dead children is to form a path of candy and dress up like all the fun things these kids use to love and that will help show their little kid spirits the way home!” Am I going to hell? Probably. Please join me!

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Anyway, I was trick-or-treating as a kid in the States on the same night that the Mayans were honoring children’s souls in the Yucatan. It seems blasphemous now, but it was a fabulous idea then and made October my favorite month of the year! It also made November the most sugar crazed hell on Earth for my parents. I do get the connection of luring a spirit back by displaying / handing out things they loved (candy) while they were with us in this life. Check out these comparisons below:

Day of the Dead vs. Halloween | Credit: diffen.com

Mexicans really love American traditions. We gringos celebrate the fuck out of holidays that require dressing up and dealing candy like drugs. Now that I’m an adult, I bypass the whole trick or treating neighborhood deal. I do still enjoy dressing up as a dirty pirate hooker. Or a booby-licious Octoberfest chick. Or a Catrina.

Anyway, many Mexican families have adopted our tradition of dressing up the kids and dealing candy within neighborhoods. It is usually some night the week of or before Day of the Dead so that they can get their sugar fix and still be sacred on the correct date! They have it all! BOO!

Papel Picado Explosion during Day of the Dead.
Me buying fun stuff for you! | Photo: TexMex Fun Stuff | Buy on Amazon

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Day of the Dead Papel Picado
Catrins and Catrinas looking Good Being Dead! | Buy on Amazon

Are you looking for more inspiration from México? Check out the TexMex Fun Stuff Blog for more sights, sounds and badass-ness uncovered while exploring México searching for handmade fun stuff for you!

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Ernesto De La Cruz…Is Coco’s Infamous Singing Superstar For Real?

Ernesto de la Cruz in the Coco movie with Miguel.

Ernesto De La Cruz stole my heart the first time I saw his big, sexy, latino, animated self in Pixar and Disney’s movie, Coco. I was preparing to move back to México from Texas when I saw the trailer for this cinematic masterpiece about my adopted homeland.

The bright-eyed boy Miguel, his dog Dante with his tongue hanging out and the sounds of mariachi music made me look VERY forward to seeing the show with my nephew (great excuse to watch a kid’s film)!

Sweet baby Jesus!! That music and scenery gave me chills! To the point of nearly dropping everything and moving to México that very second. If the trailer was that good, I couldn’t wait to see the fucking movie. “The music is in me!”

Disney and Pixar present…Miguel and Dante!

Coco was released in the US on November 22nd, 2017…four months before I was moving back to México. I’m continually looking for inspiration to build the TexMex Fun Stuff brand and to help me refine my product offerings in the US. As luck would have it, the timing of this movie was equally as magical.

For those of you reading this who have yet to see Coco, from the bottom of my corazón…please stop reading this post and go stream it right now! THEN let me know your thoughts via comments here or on our FaceBook page!

Ernesto de la Cruz in the Coco movie with Miguel.
Miguel in the Land of the Dead with his barrel-chested, assumed Great-Great-Grandfather, Ernesto De La Cruz! | Photo: ComingSoon.net

“When life gets me down, I play my guitar. The rest of the world may follow the rules, but I have to follow my heart” – Ernesto De La Cruz

Quick breakdown: The story follows a very young aspiring musician, Miguel, who is accidentally transported to the Land of the Dead and where he must find his deceased, musical genius great-great-grandfather to help him return to his family among the Living WHILE reversing his family’s ban on music AND within a limited time to escape before he disappears! Heavy drama! Massive action! Dead people!

After living in México for 5 years previously, I felt that the movie encapsulated everything colorful, cultural and mystic about México…the customs, food, sounds, family traditions, street dogs, papel picado flags, piñatas, music and the Day of the Dead (blog post on that in October)!

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Attention to the finest details throughout the movie makes me want to watch it over and over to catch gems that I missed. I mean seriously, check this cute photo of Miguel teaching himself to play the guitar by watching Ernesto De La Cruz movies! The skull head of that guitar is straight outta Day of the Dead. Chinga!

Miquel Rivera in Coco
Look at those big sweet eyes! Miguel Rivera learning to play the guitar | Photo: Vix

So who is Miguel’s great-great-grandfather who must save the day? None other than the dearly departed, world-renowned, muy famoso, Ernesto De La Cruz…or is it? EDLC (as I will call him) was from Miguel’s hometown and had been a very famous singer, musician and actor who starred in many “Charro” films. Sadly, EDLC was crushed to death by a giant bell at a very early age. Yes, a giant fucking bell. Miguel admires his music and emulates him in secret (ancestral ban on music-long story).

I’m still a bit behind when it comes to Mexican musicians, dead or alive, but I’m trying to get my shit together. I was wondering throughout the movie, “Is Ernesto De La Cruz based on a real Mexican icon or just a made up character from the genius minds of the Pixar people?” EDLC was larger than life (even in death) like Elvis and Frank Sinatra. Plus, he rocks the feathery smooth voice like a mariachi boss so I figured he had to be real. Right?

“For even if I’m far away, I hold you in my heart / I sing a secret song to you, each night we are apart.”  – “Remember Me” -Best Original Song from Coco

Doing a Google Search for ‘Is Ernesto De La Cruz…’ comes up with the auto suggestions of: ‘Is Ernesto De La Cruz real’, ‘Is Ernesto De La Cruz based on Elvis’, ‘Is Ernesto De La Cruz a father’ and ‘Is Ernesto De La Cruz based on Vicente Fernandez.’

I thought, “Screw Google. I’m gonna research the real-life person who played the animated character, Benjamin Bratt to see who his muse was for this character!” I have always felt is super hot, so why the hell not?!

Benjamin Bratt, in all of his hotness, nailed the role of Ernesto De La Cruz

Benjamin Bratt as Ernesto de la Cruz in Pixar's Coco.
Recognize him from ‘Miss Congeniality’, ‘Law & Order’ and ‘Traffic’? A little older, but just as hot! Photo: Hollywood.com

Bratt relied on his roots as a Peruvian-American to embody this macho Mexican singing icon. His mother, Eldy, was a nurse and activist (badass) from Lima, Peru and was a member of the indigenous Quechua tribe. His father, Peter Bratt Sr., was an American sheet metal worker whose father, George Cleveland Bratt, was a Broadway actor. So there’s the connection – Like grandfather, like grandson!

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To prepare for the role of La Cruz, Bratt studied the “Charro” films from the ‘Golden Era of Mexican Cinema’. From these he drew from 3 different and incredibly talented Ranchera singers/actors that were handsome, suave and charismatic. Together these men gave him the template to portray Ernesto De La Cruz. Without any prior singing experience, Bratt voiced the character and sang the Oscar winning title song of the movie, “Remember Me”. #impressive #hotandtalented

Benjamin Bratt singing “Remember Me” | Credit: DisneyMusicVEVO

I’m still trying to figure out the subtle differences between Ranchera Music and Mariachi Music, but in any case, they both involve big sombreros, booming voices and costumes that are works of art. 100% Bad Ass-ery! To prove it, see my post on Mariachis here. So when I looked up the difference between Ranchera and Mariachi music styles/genres/what have you…WikiDiff.com had this to say…

As nouns the difference between Mariachi and Ranchera is that Mariachi is a traditional form of Mexican music, either sung or purely instrumental while ranchera is a traditional Mexican song performed solo with a guitar. 

Other sources say that Ranchera is one form of Mariachi. It’s a little confusing, but both were represented PLENTY during the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema from the 1930s to the 1950s. This genre of movies… “Charro“…were extremely popular. These films featured movie stars such as Tito GuízarJorge NegreteJosé Alfredo Jiménez and Pedro Infante, who would often sing Mariachi songs to their leading ladies.

Drum roll please…so who were those 3 actors/singers that Mr. Bratt embodied? CHECK IT!!!

1. Pedro Infante, hailed as one of the greatest actors of the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema.

Pedro Infante, quintessential Mexican idol | Photo: México Desconocido

Pedro Infante is considered to be one of the best Ranchera Singers and idols throughout México and Latin America. His full name was Pedro Infante CRUZ. #NotSoSubtle

What I like about him is that he was always surrounded by mariachis in his movies and was constantly singing, drunk and on the verge of breaking down and crying. Like me on any given day of the week. I make a fraction less noise, but I certainly draw the same size crowds. #AttentionSeekingBehavior

Ole Pedro recorded over 350 songs and starred in over 60 films, 30 of which with his brother, Ángel Infante. His most critically acclaimed movie, “Tizoc” won a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film in 1958. The Golden Globe can be seen at the Pedro Infante museum on a tiny island called Isla Arena in Campeche, México. #BeenThere

#Proof …Actually I come to find out there is another museum in México City AND in Mazatlan! | Photo: Melody McNiece

Pedro also had a fascination with aviation and had converted a Bomber war plane into a cargo plane in San Diego. He was learning to be a pilot and was co-piloting this plane when the engine failed shortly after takeoff in my adopted hometown of Mérida, Yucatan. The plane was headed to México City, but crashed 5 minutes after taking off and he died at the age of 39 – April 15th, 1957. Sad day in México.

BUT some people think his death was faked since his body was “burned beyond all recognition” in the crash. Authorities were never able to positively identify his remains and adding to this mystery, a man was spotted in Veracruz in the 1980’s that went by the name Antonio Pedro who closely resembled Infante. Fans wanted to believe conspiracy theories that Infante was still alive, however a bracelet of Pedro’s was found near the crash sight which more or less settled that. #Asgoodasdead

2. Jorge Negrete, Opera Singer, Actor and Military Veteran

Jorge Negrete, “The Singing Charro” | Photo: Inicio – Más México

Jorge Negrete was born in one of my favorite cities in México and which many scenes in Coco strongly resemble…Guanajuato City, Guanajuato. The papel picado draped above the winding streets and colorful callejones in the make believe cities of Santa Cecilia and Land of the Dead is a beautiful intersection of animated nostalgia and this real-life city full of Mexican pageantry. #Guanajuato

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Negrete was a brilliant, but rebellious teenager which caused his father to enroll him in El Colegio Militar, a military academy, where (of all freaking things) he fell in love with music. Negrete graduated from the academy with a developed gallant presence that served him well as a leading man in films and a booming star on stage.

As fabulous as he was militarily speaking, he LOVED singing and had an astounding voice. So when he met José Pierson, a prestigious singing professor, he started seriously studying music. Pierson became fascinated with Negrete’s voice and got him on the radio. He also helped Negrete develop his talent for Opera which led him to become well known in the United States. He went on to star in over 40 films from 1937 to 1953 and helped found the Mexican Actors Association.

Infante and Negrete in the first and last film they did together titled, “Dos Tipos de Cuidado” 1953 | Photo: El Universal

Randomly, Negrete died at CEDARS-SINAÍ Hospital in 1953 at the age of 42 while on a business trip in LA, CA from complications of cirrhosis. There was a faux public rivalry between Negrete and Infante since their careers paralleled, but privately they were close friends right up to Negrete’s death. Some historians say that Negrete’s death actually helped Infante’s career since he was no longer in Negrete’s shadow. Both men died very young and in their prime…kinda like EDLC!

“Hey Negrete, Infante! Want to see my great-great grandson?” | Photo: Words of the Whirl Wind

MOVIE SPOILER ALERT***Both Infante and Negrete make brief dead cameos in Coco when Ernesto De La Cruz comes up to talk with them at his party in the Land of the Dead.***

3. Vicente Fernández, the King of Ranchera Music

Vicente Fernandez Ranchera singer.
Vicente belting it out! #sombrero | Photo: Sony Music México

Vicente Fernández, nicknamed “El Rey de la Música Ranchera” (The King of Ranchera Music) is a retired actor, singer and movie producer. He grew up in Guadalajara, Jalisco and was inspired to be a singer while watching Pedro Infante movies as a young boy. #parallels

“When I was 6 or 7, I would go see Pedro Infante’s movies, and I would tell my mother, ‘When I grow up, I’ll be like him.'” – Vicente Fernández

He went on to record over 50 albums and would always perform wearing a traditional Mexican charro suit, which of course included a massive felt sombrero. He also contributed to over 30 films between 1965 and 2016. He retired from performing live in 2016, but definitely went out in style. #Notdeadjustretired

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To a sold out crowd at Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium in April, 2016 he stopped his concert to address the then-US presidential candidate…

“There’s a U.S. presidential candidate that’s saying a lot of ugly things about Mexicans. The day I come across him, I’m going to spit in his face! I’m going to tell him to go fuck himself. I’m going to tell him everything no one has ever told him in his damn life.” – Vicente Fernández

BOOM. Not sure if they have had a face-off yet, but there’s time.

Vicente’s 51 year career has earned him 3 Grammy Awards, 8 Latin Grammy Awards, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and he has sold over 50 million records worldwide. That makes him one of the top-selling Mexican artists of all time. Google is backing us up here…

Greatest Ranchera Musicians

Felicidaes y gracias to Benjamin Bratt for channeling the heart and soul of Mexican music into Ernesto De La Cruz! It is clear in his performance that he used the musical and personality stylings of these 3 icons and in the process created another real Mexican icon…EDLC! VIVA MÉXICO!!!

Coco to date has grossed over $807 million making it the 15th highest grossing animated film ever made and was the first feature film with an all Latino cast. It was originally titled Day of the Dead, but was changed to Coco, which is the name of Miguel’s grandmother in the movie. The film won two Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature and one for…you guessed it…Best Original Song, “Remember Me”.

Coco 2: Return To the Land Of the Living – Slated to hit theaters in the US October/November 2020!! Olé! #NoSpoilersHere

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Coco inspired papel picado flags.

Are you looking for more inspiration from México? Check out the TexMex Fun Stuff Blog for more sights, sounds and badass-ness uncovered while exploring México searching for handmade fun stuff for you!

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My Story / The Actual History of Papel Picado Flags

Papel picado punched paper in Tlaquepaque Jalisco with Allison Nevins.

So you’ve seen the movie “Coco” from Pixar, right? Aren’t the scenes of Miguel’s village and then the Xanadu afterlife city the most visually stunning destinations you have ever seen? Me too!

You may or may not have noticed that a majority of the color you see in every scene is due to the placement of those colorful banners that wave all over both magical places.

Miguel from Coco loves papel picado.
Miguel and Hector in Xanadu and then Miguel with the clan in Santa Cecilia, Mexico | Photo: Pixar

Welp, actually México is just like that. Color pouring from the sky everywhere.

Coco inspired punched paper.
Coco-themed banners adorning our favorite restaurant in Puebla! | Photo: TexMex Fun Stuff

My hunt for these magical, colorful Papel Picado flags has taken me from enormous Mexican mercados to tiny little villages and what I’ve found is not only excellent products to export to the US and Europe, but also a tradition steeped in history and artistry, one precise hammer stroke at a time.

Here is the play by play of my quest for the birthplace of Papel Picado and the man with original birthrights to make it, otherwise known as the ‘Robin Hood’ of his town…

One year ago, I was in search of a pueblo called San Salvador Huixcolotla, which is known as the “Cradle of Punched Paper” and is the birthplace of Papel Picado flags. These colorful banners have been a part of every Mexican celebration for decades and are a symbol of México’s handmade craftsmanship at its finest.

Any birthday party, wedding or holiday gathering in México doesn’t get started until the Papel Picado is carefully strung from the rafters and roofs to welcome the party goers and to warn the neighbors that shit is about to get cray cray.

Papel picado punched paper in a cantina.
Traditional flags hanging from the ceiling of a cantina | Photo: TexMex Fun Stuff

My Story:

I found myself driving on a razor thin 2-lane road somewhere in the State of Puebla in Central México when I see in the distance a man standing in the middle of the broken pavement frantically waving a red bandana above his head. To my left was the majestic ice capped Orizaba Volcano, to my right were 3 dogs running beside my car and in front of me I had no idea, so I slowed.

The man strategically positioned in the middle of the road was actually directing traffic over a shitty one-lane bridge that I was about to cross. Evidently, when the state government of Puebla made this road they didn’t think it was important enough to spend the money on a two lane bridge. Why would they?

This bandana-waving fella’s job was to stop cars on one side of the bridge to allow cars coming from the other side to pass. I tipped him a few pesos for helping me avoid a head-on collision and was over the bridge and on my way to the worldwide mecca of Papel Picado. Yay!!

I had found the heartbeat of Papel Picado, now I was off to find Robin Hood.

Papel picado in a restaurant in Puebla city.
Typical flag placement in a restaurant celebrating Constitution Day in México | Photo: TexMex Fun Stuff

That sounded dramatic, right?! OK, truth be told, I already knew who he was. We had met several times at conventions in Guadalajara and now WhatsApp pretty frequently regarding my orders and re-orders, but I had no idea at this moment in time that my mind was about to get blown.

Stories sound better when there is more mysticism and general awe-factor, don’t you think? Anyhoo, we’ll just call our Robin Hood friend, “Max”.

Max insisted on meeting me at the outskirts of his village at a point immediately after the scary-ass mini-bridge so that I could follow him in his unnecessarily large truck to his “taller” (workshop). The whole point of following him versus just giving me directions or dropping a location pin (nope, Google Maps and Waze haven’t figured this area out yet) is because there are no street signs. At all. In the entire village.

We were too busy looking up to see street signs anyway! | Photo: TexMex Fun Stuff

Once I entered San Salvador Huixcolotla, it was clear that this was indeed the epicenter of these magical banners. Everywhere I turned, I was shaded by fluttering clouds of color.

Every street was magically draped with these intricate banners depicting all aspects of Mexican life ranging from Dia de Los Muertos to the Virgin of Guadalupe. Basically, like the Xanadu afterlife city in “Coco”.

Coco inspired pink papel picado.
Max’s brother showing off a papel picado placemat that someone had special ordered. | Photo: TexMex Fun Stuff

Actual History:

By the way, according to Wikipedia…The Ministry of Tourism and Culture in Mexico officially recognizes and supports the art of Papel Picado. And in 1998, the governor of the state of Puebla decreed that the style of Papel Picado produced in San Salvador Huixcolota is part of the ‘Cultural Heritage of the State of Puebla’ (Patrimonio Cultural del Estado de Puebla). How ’bout that!?!

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I followed Max in my Nissan Murano, which thank God has kick ass shocks, all the way to Max’s taller. His workshop is in the middle of town in a compound which includes his home (which he shares with his wife and son) and other buildings, bodegas and houses in which his brothers, cousins, nephews, nieces/employees also live and work. Chickens, dogs, kids and a cat run around this compound constantly.

I don’t know how any work gets done, but delicious chicken mole and beautiful Papel Picado are made here. If you ever get the chance to taste Max’s wife’s homemade mole – you should really go for it. I digress.

Papel picado Robin Hood of his town.
Max, himself. | Photo: TexMex Fun Stuff

So anyway, Max is showing me around and introducing me to his family/employees and he casually mentions that his great-grandfather is the originator of Mexican Papel Picado. Max speaks no English and my Spanish is barely passable, but I got the jist…His great grandfather was Aztec and Spanish, but he learned this craft from a Chinese friend. Chinese invented super fine paper. They are especially known for creating “Chinese Paper” or as we call it in North America, tissue paper.

Allison Nevins learning the are of papel picado.
Max’s cousin and Me with a chisel…always a BAD idea. | Photo: TexMex Fun Stuff

Welp, Papel Picado is basically perforated tissue paper. The designs are commonly cut into colored tissue paper using a stencil or template and small mallets or chisels. Depending on the fold of the paper and the skill level of the chiseler, as many as fifty banners can be created at a time. Check out this video to see what I mean…

Evidently local hacienda owners would import this paper from China and sell it at their hacienda stores – this Chinese friend bought some and showed Max’s great granddad how the Chinese make cutouts and use the designed paper as flags to decorate homes or towns for parties and festivals.

Well great-grandad thought, “Mexicans love parties and festivals…this could work!”

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As many traditions continue through generations of families, Max’s grandfather and father learned the trade and eventually Max was trained and inherited the family company. He employs all of his extended family and most of the town.

The bigger an order he receives, the more neighbors he contracts to get the job done. He says that in the 4th quarter of every year, the entire town is working for him in some capacity, hence the Robin Hood legacy. He is San Salvador Huixcolota’s biggest employer.

Papel picado tools used by the artist to make punched paper.
Max’s other brother demonstrating how he chooses which chisel to use for which shape he is cutting. | Photo: TexMex Fun Stuff

Every day, he and his brother drive the completed work of the day before into the city of Puebla to ship off the goods. One hour in each direction and 2 tips for the bandana bridge guy. Every day.

Allison Nevins shopping for the best papel picado in Mexico.
Future Best Sellers? | Photo: TexMex Fun Stuff

Max tells me that tissue paper banners are the best sellers of his banner catalog, but plastic is growing in popularity as outdoor fiestas are quite popular too.

Shiny Mylar Day of the Dead Vertical Flags | Photo: TexMex Fun Stuff

A few years ago he also started using mylar for a foil-like effect for customers who wanted banners with shine. Obviously plastic and mylar are more durable than the delicate tissue paper counterparts, but Max’s fam prefers to work with the traditional paper. Old dogs, new tricks.

So after 3 hours of demonstrating, picture taking and mole eating it was time to get out of San Sal. I placed a huge order, paid Max in cash for the goods I was taking back to Puebla with me and hit the road. Following Max in his unnecessarily large truck of course, because when there are no street signs AND its dark, navigation gets tricky. Luckily, the bandana guy was still on the tiny bridge and he waved me back to town. That was worth the $3 USD tip!

Experience México every day with this Coco Inspired Papel Picado! Buy Yours Here.

Papel picado hand made in Mexico inspired by Coco the movie.

Shop the TexMex Fun Stuff Papel Picado Collection

Are you looking for more inspiration from México? Check out the TexMex Fun Stuff Blog for more sights, sounds and badass-ness uncovered while exploring México searching for handmade fun stuff for you!

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S#*t You See in México

A guy and his dog riding a scooter in Roma Norte, Mexico City.

So I have been buying and selling fun stuff in/from México for years. I have seen a lot of this country looking for treasures that I think others will enjoy owning.

Along the way I have been entertained by sights and sounds from almost daily parades to almost nightly celebrations and my husband, Todd said that I should really be documenting this for my friends, fans and customers.

Basically, he forced me to start a blog. This is said blog. I hope it doesn’t suck. The plan is to show you all the funny shit I see and maybe educate a little in the quest to entertain a lot. Let’s start slow with a few pix of shit that have made me laugh pretty hard. We’ll get all educationally later.

Seriously, only in this freakin’ country can you get glimpses of this kind of greatness….

Merida, Yucatan
A Bride Climbing a Bar to get the Good Rum! | Photo: Del Angel Photography
Tequila, Jalisco.
There are 6 dudes up there “May poling”. This deserves its own blog post. | Photo: TexMex Fun Stuff
México City, State of México
Some awesomeness doesn’t even require a caption. | Photo: TexMex Fun Stuff
San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato
Awesome taco joint …#Goes without saying. | Photo: TexMex Fun Stuff
Mexico City
Grease is the Word. Or Vaselina, either way. | Photo: TexMex Fun Stuff
Cabo San Lucas, Baja California
Beach vendor selling Lucha Libre masks. Because that’s what sun bathers want more than anything at the beach.

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Merida, Yucatan
“It’s all ball bearings these days!” Fixing a bus engine sucks, especially in sandals and traffic. | Photo: TexMex Fun Stuff
Oaxaca, Oaxaca
Oooh damn! That’s a lotta Jesus! Everything your nativity scene needed then, NOW ON SALE post-Christmas in El Mercado. | Photo: TexMex Fun Stuff
Oaxaca, Oaxaca
“Dock that Oaxacan a day’s pay for nappin’ on the job!” | Photo: TexMex Fun Stuff
Teeny tiny town outside of Oaxaca, Oaxaca
A bull and cow parade. Because it’s Tuesday, that’s why! | Photo: TexMex Fun Stuff
Hacienda Santa Rosa, Yucatan
Yep, those are real. Most folks can only afford to bury their loved ones in a grave for 1 year, then they give up the space for someone else’s body. The bones of the recently removed get put into boxes for a more “economical” afterlife. |
Photo: TexMex Fun Stuff
Merida, Yucatan
They’ll let any gringo bozo into a bar. | Photo: TexMex Fun Stuff

Well that’s all for now. There will probably be a sequel of funny shit I see in Mexico, in fact it’s inevitable. But for now, it’s time to work!

Are you looking for more inspiration from México? Check out the TexMex Fun Stuff Blog for more sights, sounds and badass-ness uncovered while exploring México searching for handmade fun stuff for you!

Related Posts

5 Fun Historical Stories About Piñatas

My Story / The Actual History of Papel Picado Flags

My Lucha Libre Experience – Laughing, Crying and Screaming

🇲🇽 Shop the TexMex Fun Stuff online storefront on Amazon!  🇲🇽