|Since the beginning of time cultures around the world have developed their own take on death and dying. To many, death is a fearful truth that all try hard to avoid and none, of course, can escape. For others, death is a gift and a victory over the perils and hardships of mortality, a welcome escape from an imperfect world into a realm of perfection and bliss.
For the indigenous population around Aguascalientes, Mexico, death is both a burden and good cause for celebration, as demonstrated in the annual Festival of Skulls staged each year in October and November.
The festival got it's unlikely start based upon the works and ideas of the famous Aguascalientes lithographer and illustrator José Guadalupe Posada, best known for his satirical illustrations of skeletons (calaveras) depicted as performing the rituals and pleasures of everyday life.
Posada was a model for the Mexican muralists as a popular artist producing vivid and simple images in a distinctively non-European mode with strong elements of political satire.
The Festival of Skulls is an odd celebration where funereal practices are reenacted that reflect the pre-Hispanic influence and syncretism that developed as a result of influence from Western culture. Most notable to the outside visitor are the elaborate "altars to the dead" that are constructed for the season, and the José Guadalupe Posada National Engraving Contest held in conjunction with the event.
Aguascalientes regards this painful, natural phenomenon known as death with an unusual blend of humor, irony and irreverence. Reaching back to their indigenous spiritualism, the locals believe that by laughing in the face of death they can take away it's bitter sting; that by facing death with an ample degree of tomfoolery will somehow make the inevitable easier to swallow.
And if you were to ask the common festival participant if the process works, chances are good he/she would answer affirmatively, evidenced by the thousand of celebrants that crowd the streets of Aguascalientes to sing special songs, dance and make grand merriment.
The festival also includes tours of the Historical Center and the city’s traditional districts; painting, engraving and photography exhibitions; musical events, plays and the spectacular “altars of the dead” accompanied by humorous calaveras or songs about death. The highlight of the festival is the Skulls’ Parade, where visitors can admire hundreds of illustrations of the dead, and which culminates in the highly original “Living Altar,” the only one of its kind in the country.
By Air -- Catch a flight from Mexico City. There are some direct flights from other cities. Check with the airport or your airline carrier for the latest schedules.
By Bus -- A six hour bus ride from Mexico City, you can opt for the First Class Express bus, or choose the "midnight" bus out of Mexico City and arrive about the time the sun comes up.
By Car -- Aguascalientes is well connected by major highway systems and finding your way there is no more difficult than it is in the United States.
In the surrounding areas, you can visit gorgeous natural environments like El Tunel Porterillo, which has a trail that runs through the Huejucar Canyon, and the Plutarco Elias Calles Dam, an ideal fishing spot. There’s also the Ejido Ecoturistico El Ojote, where adventure-sport enthusiasts can get their fill of rock climbing, rappelling and other exciting recreational activities.