Wednesday, 2 November 2011

The Day of the Dead

We have just had a public holiday today, for the Day of the Dead.  This is a special day in the Catholic calendar, as people believe that there is a special connection today between the dead and the living.  People visit the cemetery, and we have been told often have picnics and drink beer to celebrate and be close to their loved ones. 

We visited the cemetery this morning, and there were many families tidying the graves, along with various priests who are paid by families to perform a short ceremony.  SOme families leave a glass of water the night before, as they believe that when their relatives come back, they will be thirsty.  It is hard to see, but there is a glass of water in this picture. The grave also looks very different, as people are not normally buried in the ground, but in concrete blocks several storeys high. 

Elements of the day reminded me of UK customs.  People care for graves in the UK too, and perhaps visit on special occassions such as birthdays, or the anniversary of a death.  These times are perhaps more personal and individual, whereas today the cemetery was packed full of people, with a market taking place outside.  I think perhaps we all need to grieve and remember, and elements of the Day of the Dead reflect this.  However, for some people, there is a strong belief that the connection between the worlds of the living and the dead are closer, the veil is thinner, which is a very different belief to evangelical Christianity and why many evangelical Christians do not celebrate or associate with it.

Perhaps the saddest part of the day was walking along to a different part of the cemetery, reserved for poor people.  If you can afford a proper grave, the bodies are cremated and left in unmarked graves. In a culture where honouring the dead is so important, how must it feel for the families to not have a place to visit, to mourn?  Even in death, poverty can not be escaped.

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