Day of the Dead

On November 1, the Catholic world celebrates the Day of the Dead. This follows All Hallows Eve (Hallowe'en) and precedes All Saints' Day. Here in Guatemala, devout believers meet in cemetaries to spend time with dead relatives by bringing food to share with the hungry dead. The food is usually eaten by roaming dogs, or by those who bring it.

I visited the local cemetaries to observe the festivities. The rich cemetary had lots of kiosks set up at the entrance selling treats and french fries to visitors. I abstained. Many families surrounded the tombs and colorful concrete beds with beers, pop, bags of flower petals and long grass clippings, and of course french fries. They decorated the graves with the grass and petals.

I wandered accross the road to the poor cemetary where most graves are unmarked and have no cement coverings. Mercedez was with me to make sure I didn't do anything ignorant and to explain some of the behaviours. We met three young boys who were lighting votives on dirt mounds under plastic sheets and behind makeshift windguards. One of the graves was of an older sister.

Last night (Nov 2) there were apparently really big parties at the cemetery. I was planning on going to see them, but Eric didn't come so I didn't feel like standing in the mud and rain to film shadows.

Let me know some of your thoughts on this practice. I'd like to discuss.


Kevin said...

Well, when I first started reading this, I thought: "Hey, that's totally not cool hanging around some grave sites. How morbid." Then, after reading a bit more, it almost seemed like a party with food, stands selling stuff, lots of people; like going to Central Park in New York. But in reality, I think this is a terrible way to spend a day. Seems like it's hoping for something (wishing well for the departed? hoping they'll have a good meal before the dogs eat the food?) for which there is no hope.

Betsy said...

I'm glad to say Catholics in New Mexico don't "celebrate" Day of the Dead!

Zaak said...

I'm glad to hear they don't celebrate it in New Mexico too. Is it observed? I'm still grappling with the meaning behind it. After talking with some of the locals here, I've gathered that this is the one day in the year that the dead return to earth for a visit and we can "appease" and/or "treat" them with a meal. Seems pretty arbitrary - why November 1? Since the food is eaten by the living and the living beasts, why food? Seems awfully suspicious. I forgot to mention that it's a national bank holiday too - so I guess the dead folks are out of luck if they wanted to finalize some banking for the year. Tough deal!

On a positive note, I think it's a nice gesture to remember the departed. I'm remembering visiting my grandfather's gravesite and then throughout the rest of that day reminiscing about his life, his jokes, his presence. My personal belief is that he is dead, not alive in any way, but that he will be resurrected one day. To me this is comforting, hopeful. My wife shares the same belief about her father.

robtherockeet said...

Hmm, when I was in Haiti they also celebrated this. I was that at times relatives acutally dug up their dead relatives and parared around with their bones... It's good to remember the dead, but to offer them food, is it to tempt their spirits back to earth? Or is it for the alive relatives to show in a tangible way that they still care? I suppose some may see it as remembering their lives as a celebration rather then a gloomy loss.

robtherockeet said...

Spelling... I was told and paraded

kydd-o said...

The day of the dead, hmm? All I can think about is this Character!