3 November 2013

Well, let me tell you about Day of the Dead. Simplistically,  people dedicate time on October 31 and November 1 to visiting the family graves. Notice I said visit. This is not about grieving  or mourning. Neither is it a celebration, although, the atmosphere around the cemetery is like a carnival midway with vendors selling everything from cotton candy to skewers of kabob.   No, it’s about a prolonged visit that can last from a couple of hours to a couple of days. And, visit is the key word. Whole families, from toddlers to grandparents gather at the family tomb and, well, visit the deceased. They may say a prayer or two but, they also chat; with each other and the dearly departed. They kind of catch the dead person (or persons) up on what’s going on with the living family. And, this cemetery,  which is the size of a village,  is jammed with people.

The throngs

The throngs

Some vaults

Some vaults


A family vault

A family vault

From October 31 they arrive graveside and visit for a couple of hours or a couple of days. Some bring a veritable picnic: folding chairs, blankets, food and drink. They have a real good-time get together – the living and the dead.

Early Cuencan hearse

Early Cuencan hearse

The WASP approach, that I’m most familiar with, doesn’t believe in speaking to the dead. The view is that there is nothing left to talk to. Anything worth communicating with has departed. Not so, here. People believe that the spirit of family members who have passed on are somehow available to them. Although this is an overwhelmingly Catholic country, many people still retain some of the traditional beliefs of their ancestor’s pre-European religion. There is a synthesis of their Catholicism and these ancient beliefs. So while it would be misleading to say that the cemetery is party central for these couple of days, a visitor from abroad couldn’t be blamed for interpreting it that way.   Now, they do have a kind of Halloween here too. Except that it appears to be more for adults than for kids. Street parties, costumes, conspicuous over-consumption abound. Stages are set up all over town and entertainment is non-stop. Something  like what goes on in the gay village back home, only more and warmer…

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