Mexico keeping Day of the Dead alive amid pandemic

Mexico City, Nov 1 (efe-epa).- Mexico is keeping the Day of the Dead celebration alive as a hybrid holiday amid the coronavirus pandemic, and although the churches are open in some states, for millions of families the traditional festivities are occurring at home, including uncounted numbers of people who are commemorating the event virtually.

A potential resurgence of the pandemic, as has occurred in other countries, put Mexican authorities on alert and on the weekend they imposed mobility and gathering restrictions.

With 924,962 confirmed cases so far, Mexico is ranked No. 10 among the world’s countries in terms of its coronavirus caseload, while its 91,753 Covid-19 deaths put it at No. 4 in that dire category, according to The Johns Hopkins University, and these figures have partially put a damper on the country’s most emblematic holiday.

The closure of cemeteries between Oct. 31 and Nov. 2 in Mexico City and nearby states was the most stringent measure implemented to prevent large gatherings at those sites with an eye toward preventing the spread of the virus.

Some of the states where the celebration is most heavily observed, like the southern state of Oaxaca, also have suspended visits to cemeteries, while Michoacan has restricted the number of people who may enter the graveyards.

In some parts of the country, families spent the night of Nov. 1-2 in the cemeteries to welcome the spirits of the dead, which according to tradition return to the world of the living for a few hours during the course of that night.

Despite the restrictions, Mexicans are trying to keep the rite alive by setting up altars and providing offerings to the dead in their homes, those offerings including food, drink and sweets with an eye toward welcoming “their dead,” that is the spirits of their departed loved ones.

The Day of the Dead celebration is one of the most heavily observed traditions in Mexico and is considered to be part of the world’s intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO.

In the municipality of Mitla, in Oaxaca state, ancestral traditions have been adapted to the pandemic.

At 12 midnight, the spirits of the dead were welcomed with fireworks to show the happiness of the living over welcoming their deceased loved ones back into the family fold.

“We have no reason to go out,” said Hilda Juarez, a Mitla resident of Zapotec Indian heritage. “We’re waiting here at home and … we feel them because you feel their vibrations. … For them, there’s no pandemic, and they’re arriving because nobody is hampering them, and here they’re resting on their grass mats,” she said, indicating the grass mats placed on the floor of the home.

In Michoacan, the Purepecha Indians for the first time in their history suspended their traditional Night of the Dead public celebration due to the pandemic, although they did celebrate at home with their altars and offerings to the dead. Dozens of Catholic and other churches closed their doors to tourists, even though between Oct. 31 and Nov. 2 each year the sector usually takes in about $1 million, according to local authorities.

The silence that prevailed at the Merida cemetery contrasted with the hustle and bustle in Xoclan, another cemetery in the Yucatan state capital.

At both sites, rigid health protocols were in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, but in Xoclan there was a “party” for the dead and the graves, crypts and mausoleums were adorned with colorful flowers and illuminated by thousands of candles.

On Saturday, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador inaugurated a huge offering to honor the Covid-19 victims at the National Palace and decreed three days of mourning with the country’s flag at half-staff and all official events suspended.

Ulises Adrian Reyes, a professor of social sciences and the humanities at the Metropolitan Autonomous University (UAM), said that Mexicans “have to recast how we experience this ritual and get closer to a new type of idea about death.”

In an interview with EFE, the expert said that now death is being perceived as real because although “we’re aware that we’re finite beings and we know we’re going to die, and the pandemic is … (part) of this great possibility.”

Meanwhile, in Greater Mexico City, authorities cancelled a parade and activities in 16 municipalities, but virtual spaces were created online at the Ofrenda Infinita Web site where people could continue to observe the tradition.

The origin of the Day of the Dead dates back to pre-Hispanic times, and it is a celebration that has taken on a multicultural character with elements of Catholic faith brought from Spain but full of assorted elements transmitted down from earlier generations in the various regions of Mexico.


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