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Dia de los Muertos @ Olvera Street 11/02/08

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Sunday was the final evening of the Olvera Street Merchant's Dia de los Muertos celebration. It seemed like the entire city showed up, crowding the narrow streets and gazebo. Blessings were given in the street center, cleansing the faithful with smoke that billowed from small clay pots. Shops sold sugar skulls, mariachis played, and the lines at taco stands grew as the hour of the procession neared.

At 7pm, after a blessing by a parish priest, the procession wound its way down Olvera Street, then turned to return and circle the gazebo. The participants who wear calaca masks and facepaint dress as the same characters every year. A bride and groom flirt and dance, occasionally batting their eyes at someone in the crowd. Other than than the dancing newlyweds, the shrieking ghost is the only calaca figure to interact with the crowd, suddenly jumping into people's faces and screaming in a way that is simultaneously terrifying and hilarious. As with the "it was only the cat" moment in horror movies, everyone laughs harder than they normally would and it breaks up the solemnity of the occasion.

Every year the crowd grows larger and this year by the time it reached the gazebo, it was difficult to move freely without bumping into other people. At 8pm it seemed like time to go although the event would not end until nine. Aztec dancers were still dancing and the stiltwalkers still waved at the crowd. A shriek went up nearby from the sneaky screaming calaca, "YEEEEE-ahhhh-ha-ha!!!" and everybody laughed together.