Day of the Dead in Modern Mexico

Day of the Dead in Modern Mexico

Attending a pal’s funeral this week I learned a bit more about Mexican funeral customs that I had somehow missed in previous ultimate masses (that is, funerals).

There is no Biblical or theological reason for the way coffins enter or exit church, rather the tradition is that they enter and exit feet first.  The coffin is carried in feet first symbolic of the fact that in life, the deceased faced the altar. The coffin is turned around at the end of Mass symbolizing the deceased leaving the church.

In a priest’s funeral the head points towards the altar, for when alive, the priest faced the people. At the end of Mass the coffin is not turned around, as the priest would already be in the proper position to exit the church as he did in life.

The only real exception is that of a baby’s death where the coffin (usually a small white casket) is carried in sideways by one individual – sometimes the priest, or the funeral director, or even, poignantly, the baby’s father.  He’ll continue to carry his baby’s coffin to the cemetery for burial as a very public expression of his grief.

Oddly, I’ve learned on social media and cemetery tours carrying a tyke’s coffin really irritates many Northerners feeling the funeral of child should be done on the down low.  Personally, I get expressing the loss of child publicly because if you don’t, and I didn’t, grief will poke into your life until you do.

When a coffin enters a church the folks in the pews turn to face it as a matter of respect.

Then when leaving a church there can be clapping particularly for an elderly person.  It is a way of cheering them on into Heaven.

It reminded me of Queen Elizabeth’s recent funeral procession where some media pundits were offended folks in the dense crowds clapped.  Here, in San Miguel de Allende, it would be the most appropriate expression.

If the deceased hadn’t lived all that long or died in an unfortunate series of events (like while committing a crime), clapping is not performed.

Don’t go to a funeral peckish as unlike in the North there is no reception at the family home afterwards.  Instead, the body goes to the cemetery or crematorium with family.  If you want to express your grief in caloric intake you attend the nine days of rosaries the family sponsors with the ninth day’s rosary being followed by a big meal.

You’ll notice the tall candle up on every altar is now lit.  Inside are the oils and spices they cleaned Jesus body with for burial.  It is lit at baptisms and funerals as a reminder one must be born (and baptized) to then die and return to God.  A not so subtle reminder of the circular nature of life the indigenous believed in and part of what made the new faith acceptable.

Photos of deceased have become de rigueur at funerals reminding me of my mother’s funeral a dozen years ago.  Her’s was closed casket due to age and illness so my sister and I took photos out of old albums, framed them in a quick trip to Target and placed them on her coffin.  My thinking was for pals and family to remember her as she was when healthy and strong.

The church’s funeral coordinator was my long-ago high school Spanish teacher, Sr. Helen.  Sr. Helen thought photos were wildly inappropriate but allowed it until the funeral itself began if only because of the many nights she, I and my Mom spent drinking champagne at a local bar.

The last thing I learned in this particular funeral was the importance of groups one belonged to in life.  Though I hadn’t seen this man since the virus started we had attended many dance classes and parties together.  If you’ve celebrated life with someone you need to celebrate their dancing into Heaven also.