Once November first has passed, and people have enjoyed their lechón, on the next day– November 2– the celebrate the Day of the Dead which is also an old tradition in Cuzco. People get up early this day to visit the cemeteries, especially the tombs of any loved one who has passed to the other life. They begin by taking them flowers in a variety of colors along with multicolored wreaths, often made of plastic to last. On this day one should not eat anything of meat out of respect for the dead. Nevertheless, vendors are at the cemeteries’ gates offering typical dishes.
The manner of celebrating this day varies according to social background. For example, the people who have money will generally bury their dead in cement niches. On this day they only take real flowers and they only accompany their dead for a few hours. But middle-class or lower-class people bury their dead in the holy ground and they show more energy and joy in visiting their dead. An older woman, a grandmother, once told me it is like spending the entire day with the missing loved one.” Generally these families will take flowers, wraths, and they decorate the tomb with confetti of different colors. They offer the dead one the drinks they liked in life, such as chicha as well as their favorite dishes of food. Other people will give them a series of special breads and fruits and with these they cover the niche. They talk to them and treat them as if they were still alive. They converse with them and even cry. It is common to hear the whole family speak about their activities as well as their accomplishments from when they were alive.
In the cemeteries on this day one finds small musical groups offering their services to the families who are gathered there. They commemorate the memory of the lost one by playing their favorite song or melody. The family joins in the singing and even dance.
Maybe this tradition comes from pre-Hispanic times where the loved ones were mummified in order to keep them as if they were alive and be able to offer them the same things they enjoyed in life. They could be commemorated as the Chroniclers recall. We still see this today.
Whatever the case, the day of the living, followed by the Day of the Dead are celebrations in Cuzco accompanied with pleasure, joy and tradition. The famous lechón, to the bread babies and horses, and the visit to the cemeteries color this day with happiness in remembrance of the loved one and sorrow they are no longer with us, but not without the idea that in the next life we will once again meet to travel other paths filled with customs that will enlighten us with their living details.