Halloween kids knocking at your door demanding sweets (or should we just call it candy now), if you don’t have any you may get egged. Steeped in the tradition of American culture which has made it’s way over the pond via television and embraced by the toothless smiles of our sugar addicted children. Like Easter it’s another holiday which has been overtaken by the need to sell people stuff.
Meanwhile in Bolivia…
There are actually several days where the dead are celebrated; and yes there are costumes, parties and people doing the Halloween things we are used to in the western world. However; it is also a time to remember and celebrate the lives of family members past.
Halloween, or hallows eve is the day before the dead return to earth. The following day in Bolivia (1st Nov) is Todos Santos. Todos Santos is a public holiday across the catholic world. On this day the saints are remembered and honored.
Dia de los Muertos (2nd Nov) is the day when dead relatives comeback to visit their families. In the days leading up to the holiday you can begin to see different things being sold in the markets. Loads of bread with faces embedded in them, representing the dead family members. There were also loaves of bread in the shape of horses or ladders; these are to help the dead return quickly.
On the day itself we headed to Cemetario General in La Paz like everyone else in the city. The cemetery was packed with people, cleaning the graves of their relatives before sitting down for a meal with them.
There were many people who have laid out a table which had empty chairs for their relatives. This table is often filled with the dead’s favorite food and drink. Traditionally, before it was outlawed by the Spanish ruling class people would literally take out the bodies of the their mummified relatives and have dinner with them.
There are some parallels with the western tradition, instead of threatening the cake owner with tricks people here pray for the cake instead. So you can go up to a family dinner in a cemetery and offer to prey for their dead relative for food. This preying for food is also a way to give food to those who need it more, so it is also a day for charity.
The atmosphere in the cemetery was a mixture of happiness and sadness. I saw people cry, laugh and the rest. It was a very emotional place to be; but this group grieving I suppose was a way for people to share with others; to also know they are not alone.
The cemetery was a lively place, this was a major contrast to all the times I have visited grave yards in the the UK. Much of the noise came from the wondering bands of musicians. For a few pesos you can employ musicians to sing songs to your relatives. At one point I’m pretty sure I herd Backstreet Boys on the panpipes with people crying around it, was difficult not to laugh.
The graveyard is certainly a very interesting place to wonder around, and like the city itself there are clear class divisions. Some areas had bigger tombs than others, some more ornate.
If you are in town on the Day of the Dead or not it is an interesting place to go and see.