On November 2nd, cemeteries throughout Bolivia host thousands of visitors who decorate the graves of the dead with flowers as well as leave out elaborate spreads of food for the deceased. Offerings include cake, popcorn, candy and fruits, intended as nourishment for the spirit’s journey back to the afterlife. There is also a lot of bread, much of which is baked into symbolic shapes such as angels, bulls (representing prosperity) and ladders (to help the dead ascend to heaven).
The remainder of Dia de los Muertos is spent with family at the cemetery, talking, praying for their loved ones and smoking (something which is viewed as a spiritual act on Todos Santos). Friends and strangers alike are welcome to join in the prayers and often have their kindness repaid with food.
Along with prayer, music plays a key role in the day’s festivities, energising the spirits for their return to the underworld. Guitarists, trumpeters and bands play folk tunes in appreciation of the spirits’ visit and to wish them a happy onward journey.
After the celebrations have finished and the parting rituals completed, families return home, waiting another year before they can once more be reunited with their loved ones.
The lead up to Dia de los Muertos is taken very seriously with the government hiring bricklayers and painters to repaint and repair damaged graves. Families prepare by washing vases, scrubbing headstones, replacing flowers and purchasing food, drink and offerings days in advance.
Death in Bolivia is not seen as the end, but simply a continuation of life, a journey from which you can always return. For the indigenous people, Dia de los Muertos is a celebration of the eternal, providing one day a year for the living to be reunited with the departed.
If you’re in Bolivia during Dia de los Muertos, it is worth noting that many businesses shut down over this period, so you may want to stock up on essentials in advance.
Are you spending Dia de los Muertos in Bolivia? Have you already? Tell us in the comments…