el Dia de los Muertos

A little late on this one,  but I thought it was still worthwhile to share photos from last week’s Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). Wednesday, Nov. 2nd is originally a Mexican holiday but has spread to many parts of the world, especially Latin America. While I heard once from a friend stories of people in Bolivia spending all night in singing, candle-light vigils, Nicaragua celebrates it differently.

Nothing particularly takes place on Nov. 1st, but Nov. 2nd is a national holiday. Lucky for all, the skies were clear. My “mama-Nica,” Doña Daisy, invited me to go with her and her grand-daughter Amy to the cemetery. She loaded up a sack with a big bunch of colorful flowers, and we waited by the side of the nearest highway for a bus that would carry us to the cemetery. We were heading to one of the bigger cemeteries in the area, in a sub-city of Managua, called Ciudad Sandino. Bus after bus passed us, stuffed with families and flowers.  A family of three squeezed onto a motorcycle flashed in a blur of flora. We finally caught a suitable bus, and began the pilgrimage.

Upon entering Ciudad Sandino, we caught a taxi to take us up to the cemetery. As we neared, the taxi got caught in the traffic of vendors selling food and flowers, families crowding their way to the main gates, and small mototaxis tooting their way through the whole mess.

a "mototaxi" in Cuidad Sandino

I was the only gringa present. Honored to be invited to what seems like such an intimate family event, I happily soaked in the ambience. People seemed both tranquil and festive; reflective and just going about the regular routine of visiting their deceased. The smells of fried and sweet foods mixed with the odor of fresh paint. I learned that many people use this day to clean up the grave of their relative, painting another coat of bright latex, or donning it with artificial flowers.

Doña Daisy sent Amy and I to go find “snow.” I wasn’t sure what that meant, but quickly discovered to my (environmentally-conscious) dismay that everyone was sprinkling colored Styrofoam “snow” all around the fresh flowers they brought to the graves. The brighter the prettier. Amy spread the “snow” around, while Daisy’s sister-in-law (who wasn’t even related by blood to Daisy’s parents) lovingly weeded around the tombs.

To all sides, I saw multi-generations of families gathered together: kids laughing and running around the tombs; grandmothers seated in chairs with sun-umbrellas; young street chavalos– dudes giving a hand to level out the dirt on top of the graves.

After a while, we walked across the cemetery to visit a friend of Daisy’s, whose husband and son had both died in the past year. A woman of incredible resilience, her friend Margarita welcomed us to the site, as a subdued family gathered around. Another son of Margarita’s washed dirt from the sides of the still-fresh tomb.

Halloween pales in its sugary glory compared to the ritual of el dia de los muertos. Instead of a ghoulish party, the Day of the Dead in Nicaragua is a celebration of life, and an honoring of those who came before us. By bringing flowers to the grave and then remaining to visit, the sharp separation between the living and the dead lessens, and life becomes more fluid.

Some rituals are worth adopting.

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