TRADITIONS and CUSTOMS
The act of preparing an altar by placing photographs, flowers, candles, favorite foods and drink of the loved one provides a special time to remember, and to transform grief into acceptance. The living invite the spirits of the family to return home for a few hours of laughter, tears and memories.
An important aspect of the holiday is the closure that it provides for families who have lost a loved one during the previous year. Without embalming, burial must take place within 24 hours of death. During this short period, the body is laid out in the coffin at home, surrounded by candles, flowers, family and friends. While the family and friends gather, and sit in vigil during the night, then return for another week to recite the rosary, there is often little time for acceptance or reality. Preparing for the return of the spirit each fall lets the family remember and honor their dead, and gives them a chance to heal.
Some families prepare the altar of offerings at the family grave site, lighting a candle for each dead one, remembering the names, and placing flowers or coronas (wreaths) at the cemetery. Many stay to visit, eat, drink and pray while they keep a vigil during the night. All night, throughout the cemetery there is a grand family reunion of huge extended families, alive and dead, as one by one, through stories, memories and dreams, the dead return. On this night, those who wait realize the importance of living to be well remembered, working to be well respected and loving to be well missed.
Once the night has passed, and the spirits have returned to their world, the ones remaining known that for another year they have triumphed in the struggle of life and that the only way to celebrate death is to live with courage. They have faced death and have won, saying, "Look here, you old bald skull - you fleshless one - you didn't get me - I have survived to live again today."
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