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Published: November 2nd 2018
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Cj writes: Today was the Big Day - the Day of the Dead (Dios de los Muertes). It started off with a bang - actually, several bangs - at about 6am
. Although I gather that might not be restricted to fiesta days.>Our usual tour guide brought in a local to take us around today - thankfully the new chap had Irish and American ancestry as well as Mexican, so he was not only extremely knowledgeable but also intelligible - no mangled English for a change. He took us to three cemeteries. The first was used only by indigenous Mayans: their graves were simple piles of Earth with wooden crosses. But the place was heaving! At about 9:30am
the place was packed with families sitting on or around the graves, dressing the graves with pine needles (representing the forest) and marigolds (the flower of the Dead, which helps to guide the spirits back to earth). Families and spirits alike join in eating and drinking the deceased’s favourite things - which, oddly, often includes Coca Cola. We discovered from our guide that the upright cross was sacred to the Maya before the Conquistadors arrived. But the Maya cross is much more ‘blobby’ because it
represents the sacred Ceiba tree. This lives for up to 2000 years, and has a notably straight trunk and huge, buttress-like roots. The trunk represents life on earth, the roots the 9 levels of the underworld (through which the deceased must pass, solving challenges along the way), and the branches, which come out of the trunk at right angles, represent the 13 levels of heaven. The conquering Spanish, of course, played on this when forcibly converting the Mayans to Catholicism ... although the old religion is still hugely important).
The second cemetery couldn’t be more different. This one is used by the mestizos - people with Spanish blood - and somewhat resembles the monumental cemeteries we’ve seen in other countries (although there’s definitely a degree of one-upmanship in the designs - the place was full of mock castles and chapels and whatnot). But this cemetery too was full of flowers - more expensive, formally arranged - and people cleaning or repainting their family tombs. However, whereas the Mayans celebrate the day on 1st November.
The third cemetery was well outside the town, and this was fabulous- smaller tombs, but each one magnificently bedecked with floral arrangements, candles and, of
SC adds: What better way to remember my Dad, who would have been 99 today, than by visiting three cemetaries. I think he'd have seen the funny side...
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