I couldn’t ever even tell you why, but I’ve always had a very healthy (or maybe unhealthy? LOL!) interest in the macabre. Besides that making Halloween my second most favorite holiday of the year (Christmas holds the #1 spot), I will also make it my business to visit historic cemeteries, go on cemetery tours, walk around the cemeteries of old churches, etc., when traveling.
However there’s one cemetery I haven’t been to that I’d love to visit, if our travels ever bring us to Guatemala.
Chichicastenango Cemetery, located on the outskirts of the town of Chichcastenango (about 110 miles west of Guatemala City) is a perfect example of Guatemala’s “bright” outlook on burials, in which, according to Mayan tradition, honoring the dead encourages the living to make peace with the inevitability of death.
As is the case with cemeteries all over the world, families with more money have tombs built for their deceased, whereas more poor town members may only be able to afford a a small grave marker. Whatever the case at Chichicastenango Cemetery, the tomb, marker or anything in between is painted in bright colors. Each color has a meaning; i.e. white, as traditional, represents purity; graves of mothers are painted turquoise to symbolize protection and grandfathers are marked in yellow to indicate the sun will protect humanity. Other graves break this more traditional mold, painted in bright green or red or simply the favorite color of the deceased. Some are painted the same color as the person’s house so the dead can remember where to go.
Families of the dead make offerings, via shamans, of flowers, incense, candles, and chickens at the cemetery year-round. They also clean and repaint the graves of their family members who have passed during the annual Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) in early November. They also have a special festival on that day, featuring parades, food, fireworks and parties to celebrate the deceased.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary