Father Juan’s face lit up as he talked about his visits—walking—to many villages in the parish of Xochitepec during the week leading up to the Day of the Dead. He went to many homes and to many “graveyards”—although he was quick to point out that the people never use the word “cemetery”; it’s always campo santo (“holy field” or “holy ground”).
What struck him the most, Juan said, was the realization as
he was walking along that, for the indigenous people here, this is Easter! This is the celebration of life after death; this
is the certainty that the dead really do accompany their families during this
special time of year.
So the families visit the campos santos, and they set up in their homes an altar for their deceased family members. On the altar are placed ofrendas
(food and drink for the journey; life is changed, not ended), velas (candles, so the dead can find
their way), cempoalxochitl (a special
flower symbolizing beauty, virtue, and truth), pan de los muertos (special bread made in the shape of a human
being), and copal (incense,
symbolizing the sharing of one’s life with the people). A bamboo arch often
goes above the altar; this makes the altar a kind of home (“come in and stay
with us”); at the same time, the fact that the arch is a half-circle symbolizes
that our time on earth is only a part of the journey of life; the rest—and the
best—is yet to come.
|The altar and ofrendas in the home of Delfina and Tomás in Agua Fría|
|The altar and ofrendas in the home of Guadalupe and Simón in Xochitepec|
|The doorway to Delfina and Simon's house in Xochitepec|
|Everyone knows that the "For the 43" refers to the 43 students "disappeared" on September 26|
|The altar at Edith's home in Zitlaltepec|
|Saúl and Sara and Gaudencio (being carried) leading me to breakfast|
|Walking with Tomás to his house in Agua Fría (it's circled in the background)|