After nearly 6 years of living in Mexico (off-and-on), I realized yesterday that I had never visited a cemetery on November 2ed, the Day of the Dead. The time had come.
After lunch, Clara and I trotted off towards downtown and then veered sharply west, towards Panteon Santiago. I noticed that a number of the buses, while perhaps following their normal routes, had marked on their windshields which cemeteries they drove by on their route.
And as we turned left at the Alameda, it became clear that we were heading in the right direction. When I told Mario of our plans, he wished us good luck. "It'll be crowded." Just the kind of thing he hates and I love--excellent!
Police were directing traffic at the two intersections closest to the cemetery and, after that second intersection, the street was closed to traffic. Considering that the University Hospital was on that road, almost right across from the cemetery, I wondered how that affected the hospital and their patients. However, as I wasn't a patient there that day, I didn't dwell on it long.
Like any fair, food stalls were set up in abundance, as were candy stalls, flower stalls, and plenty of people selling sugar cane. Why sugar cane? Except for the month of December, I can't say that I've ever seen sugar cane in this state. I felt like I was back in Morelos, all of a sudden. Anyway, it must be a crucial ingredient for properly paying one's respects to one's dearly departed.
Clara and I strolled in with family upon family. I haven't spent much time in Mexican cemeteries, but this was far and away the most ornate and ordered Mexican cemetery I had ever visited. It may have helped that we were visiting on this particular day, as it seemed that every gravestone had been recently cleaned. Plenty of people were perched at the entrance of the cemetery with brooms and buckets offering their services for cleaning the graves.
We meandered through the aisles, enjoying the general splendor, as many of the graves at the entrance had impressive statues guarding individual and family graves. All were white and seemed to sparkle in the late afternoon sunlight. Extended families coordinated with each other and came together to pray for their family members. This is another belief in the Catholic faith that took me awhile to adjust to. After all, when Protestants die, the only people left to pray for are their family and friends left to grieve. Protestants believe that the deceased is immediately in either heaven or hell and no amount of praying after death can change that outcome. While that may very well be the case when Catholics die (after all, none of us really knows for sure, do we?), Catholics believe that praying for their dead family members may help things out. While the idea of Purgatory really weirded me out at first, I'm actually really like the idea now (and have plenty of Bible verses to back me up on it). If you want to pick my brain on that piece of theology, feel free, but this is neither the time or the place.
Some families went all out and hired a band to sing before or after they prayed. My mood was tiptoeing around the somber, so the music helped to lighten things up a bit. And, of course, before leaving family members would leave fresh or artificial flowers behind. Some got rather elaborate with their floral arrangements, as seen in the photos posted.
All in all, it was a lovely afternoon, a good time for reflection, and I'm glad I went. Sure, I felt a little silly not having people to visit. By visiting random strangers' graves, it gave me incentive to stop neglecting the graves of my own dearly departed.
Whenever I get the chance, of course.