Last Friday was El Dia De Los Muertos, the Day of the Dead.
Chances are you’ve heard of the DOTD before. Maybe you’ve even gone to a party, because honestly, in North America we simply see the day as another excuse to celebrate.
Here in South America the Day of the Dead is a serious and major holiday stemming back hundreds of years. It’s a day to both remember your departed ancestors, and to pray for their souls, because, in the minds of South Americans there’s a great chance that their love ones won’t get into heaven if they don’t attempt to intercede on their behalf.
In modern times, on the DOTD most families will set out a table covered in their departed loves ones favorite foods. If a fly comes and lands on the food the insect is seen as their ancestor coming to enjoy the meal. In Bolivia there are a lot of flies, so getting one to land on the food isn’t a problem. Then later that night the family eats the food that has been sitting on the table.
On the DOTD families will also visit the graves of their loved ones in the local cemetery, covering tomb stones with flowers or paying local children to cry and plead and pray for their family member (because children are seen as innocent and pure of heart, the DOTD is actually a pretty lucrative business day for kids).
Many years ago, in the countryside of Bolivia the DOTD had a more morbid tradition. Late at night family members would go to the local cemetery, dig up the remains of their dearly departed relative and carry it under their poncho to the local cathedral so that it could be blessed. No joke. But the government has recently outlawed this practice hoping to stall the spread of disease. It makes me wonder though, if maybe the tradition lives on in some remote places….?
This year I was able to witness my first Day Of The Dead. Because it is such a large holiday doctors didn’t hold consolations in the morning which meant the hospital was essentially closed except for emergencies and also meant we got the day off.
The other volunteers and I spent most of the morning and early afternoon with a local youth group at a pool a few blocks from the Hospital. When we were walking back we could hear loud music thumping in the distance, and when we got close to the hospital we could see dozens of cars parked in front of it. At this point two things went through my mind, either there was a HUGE accident, or there was a party at the Hospital. But when we reached the hospital the party wasn’t there.
So where was the party? Well at the cemetery of course. That’s right, and they only thing that lies between the hospital and the cemetery is a field.
To give you an idea of how loud the music truly was, the house that had the speakers pumping literally took the entire villages power, so we arrived back at the guesthouse without a lick of energy to cook, entertain, nothing.
So what do you do when the powers out and it’s starting to get dark? Check out the party of course. Well, really we decided to go check it out because we were curious about what it was like, not because we were in the mood to party.
As we got close to the cemetery we noticed more and more food stalls had been set up. Drunk men cat called from every direction, yes we felt very out of place.
Walking through the cemetery was an incredibly weird and creepy experience. People here aren’t buried very well or very deep. In America our cemeteries are neatly laid out on grid system but in Bolivia, at least in the countryside where I live, they just bury people wherever the heck they can find space. I was more than a little unnerved having to step on so many obvious graves.
In the end am I happy I got a chance to see the celebration? Yes, it was definitely interesting, but more than that, I am so, so, so happy for the hope I have in Christ. For the knowledge I have that Christ died for my sins and my families sins so that I don’t have to continually pray for their salvation and admittance into heaven once they’ve passed on.
And now, I’m praying for as many opportunities to share that hope I have with the people I meet here in Bolivia so that maybe come next Dia De Los Muertos they will be praising God for what they’ve been given instead of praying out of desperation.