In the Mexican state of Veracruz, the towns of Xalapa and Papantla have residents who are descendants of the Totonac, native inhabitants of Veracruz. The descendants have retained ancient practices including their language in spite of the Spanish conquistadors and evangelists. Day of the Dead in the Totonac language is Ninín. The Totanacs’ believed that the souls of the dead pass to a world where no one suffers, but need the help of the living to reach the place of immortality. This view does not fear death. Today families celebrating Day of the Dead can be found feasting together in honor of their dead friends, family members, and the Totanc gods. The festivities facilitate familial and community ties for the living and the dead.
In another Veracruz town, Escolin, Day of the Dead preparations begin two months ahead of the festival. Four phases of the festival are observed:
- San Lucas (October 18) is reserved for those who have died a tragic death by drowning or assassination. Food offerings such as mole, bread, coffee, chocolate, and tamales are placed on the home altar. The altar is decorated with palm leaves and ornaments. Sometimes the church leaders join the families in prayer. This part of the festival ends when the cross and food offerings are taken to the loved one’s gravesite.
- Ninín (October 31 through November 2) is the celebration associated with the Day of the Dead. Mid-day on October 31 the marks the arrival of the children’s souls or laqsqatanín. Food offerings might include mild flavored meatless tamales, bread, tortillas, chocolate, fruits, clothing, toys and water. Candles, incense and prayers are offered as well. Fireworks are ignited and doors of the home are left open to allow the souls can enter and partake of the foods. At noon on November 1, the souls of the children depart allowing for the arrival of the adult souls. The families proceed to the cemetery to place part of the food offerings on the graves. Orphans are remembered through smaller altars on outside of the home.
- Xa aktumajat or the Octave (November 8 and 9) is a time when the dead are once again received for a period of nine days. On the eighth day farewells are said to the children’s souls and to the adult’s souls on the ninth day. For some this concludes the celebrations for the dead. Others end with San Andrés.
- San Andrés (November 30) signifies the end of the celebrations with final goodbyes until the following year. The altars consist of a personal altar or the altar used for the veneration of the dead through the Catholic Saints. Once again families feast on tamales, tortillas, bread, and chocolate recite prayers and take part of the food and flowers to the cemetery.