Tens of thousands of Cuencanos will gather at city cemeteries today to visit the graves of family members and friends in the annual Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, observance.
Most of the visits will be quiet, with family members gathering around graves and vaults, sharing memories and picnic lunches. Children will sing, survivors will leave written messages, graves will be cleaned and decorated with fresh flowers. Later this afternoon, there will be larger ceremonies with religious services, speeches and concerts.
The Day of Dead, a blending of pre-Columbian rituals with the Roman Catholic observance of All Saints and All Souls Days, is celebrated throughout Latin American in a variety of fashions. It is most popular in Mexico, where it inspires costume parties and is symbolized by festive skeletons.
Cemetery parties in Mexico City can become so rowdy that thousands of police are on duty to handle the crowds. In Peru, families hire bands to serenade the dead. In Haiti, ancient African ceremonies combine Voodoo with ritual dances.
Cuenca’s Day of the Dead celebration seems mild in comparison, but there are many private
rituals commemorating relationships. At the city’s All Saint’s Cemetery, Juan Espinoza, who is in his late 80s, will arrive at the graveside of his best friend, Jorge, with a jug of cane liquor. As he has for more than 20 years, he will pour half of the liquor around the edge of Jorge’s grave and spend the afternoon drinking of the rest of it. “These were the best times Jorge and I had and we promised each other that we would continue doing it, even in death,” says Juan, who says he will call his daughter to pick him up late in the afternoon. “I will be in no condition to drive and I won’t be walking very well either,” he says