Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Dia de los Muertos

Today is Day of the Dead, a hispanic Memorial Day celebration. We had guagua de pan (little bread rolls formed into people, like a gingerbread man made from sweet rolls with little frosting smiles and eyes) and colado morada (a juice made from pineapple, oranges, blood-red berries and other fruits and cinnamon) for breakfast, traditional food for today.

Then we dressed and gathered flowers into small bunches and hailed a taxi for the cemetary in the highlands. Along the road were many little stands selling candles, flower arrangements, candies and sweets, ice creams, and complete dining room sets put out to offer lunch and dinner plates. There was fritada (fried and seasoned pork), choclo (giant corn kernels boiled and salted), agua de gallena (chicken soup), seco (chicken and rice), hornado (baked and pulled pork), and more.

We walked around the crypts, visiting families and friends who were seated near the graves of their loved ones past. Lighting candles or laying a small bouquet of flowers is a sign of respect for the dead, and we visit many graves along the winding gravel paths. Most tombs are above ground, save for the very oldest, who usually only have a plaster white cross emerging from the soil, or from the middle of a paved path. The newer graves are like picture boxes, with glass doors to protect the pictures, ornaments, flowers, and candles inside.

There are priests and musicians in the cemetary, and a mass was held, with guitar and songs sang. Children play and run around the graves, some of them learning how to properly light the candles, lay a small spot of hot wax, and then press the base of the candle into the spot, holding it upright to burn the whole wick down.

We take a few pictures of family together, or the crypts of relatives all decorated and cleaned. Then we head up the hill and out of the cemetary to eat. This feels like the fair or a concert. Police are directing traffic, and families slowly meander along both sides of the road, admiring ornaments to buy and food to eat. We select our plates and also buy some humitas to bring home, to eat with coffee later tonight.

Most people think Dia de los Muertos is somehow related to Halloween, and therefore some kind of morbid tradition. However, Day of the Dead is essentially Memorial Day, a celebration of the life of the people, not really a somber holiday. Like all Ecuadorian holidays, food and family is the base of this tradition.