Mexicans celebrate restricted Day of the Dead amid coronavirus upheaval
Sunday - 01/11/2020 17:49
With tens of thousands dead, the commemoration of lost family members has rarely been more relevant as rituals of mourning have been disrupted
José Porfirio Martínez Castro and his wife Nery Urioles Nájera were tidying up their family tomb at the municipal graveyard in Morelia. They built a small altar for two of José’s siblings and adorned it with marigolds, sugar skulls and tiny bottles of Coca-Cola – his sister’s favourite drink.
Normally, they would spend the night of 1 November here, lighting candles and remembering their loved ones. But this year the cemetery will be closed because of Covid-19 restrictions, so they made their visit a few days early.
“I never imagined doing this,” said Martínez, from the tomb’s shady portico. “Everything has changed in 2020.”
Oceans of marigolds still adorn Mexican boulevards, sugary pan de muerto is still on sale and images of skeletons decorate everything from store windows to billboards.
The pandemic has shattered thousands of Mexican families – but it has also interrupted many of the country’s traditional ceremonies for commemorating the dead: churches have been closed; wakes cancelled; and communities unable to gather for novenas – prayers offered for nine consecutive days.
“They say it was diabetes, or they died of a heart attack … or it was kidney problems,” Father Raúl Vázquez, a Jesuit priest, said, describing how relatives of Covid victims refer to the cause of death. “They’re scared of being rejected by their neighbours.”
The inability to properly commemorate loved ones has left many Mexicans still searching for closure.