Few maintain the tradition of cleaning and painting family tombs for Hanal Pixan

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Families touch up their family tombstones and vaults at Mérida’s General Cemetery. Photo: Diario de Yucatán

Mérida, Yucatán — With Hanal Pixan approaching, the General Cemetery is visited by friends and family of those who are buried amid its colorful jumble of modest and grandiose tombs.

But the tradition of regularly visiting and painting up the cemetery’s tombs and ornate mausoleums is fading away, said Don Manuel, who keeps hours in the cemetery to offer his services to anyone who wants help maintaining their family plots.

“There are very few people who come to clean their graves, it is not like before. I think that tradition was lost with the new generations,” said Manuel.

One visitor, identified in a news story simply as Camila, said she punctually cleans her parents’ tomb every year. But she noted that she sees few people who maintain the tradition as she does.

Another pair of visitors, Julian and Maria Arredondo, arrived early at the cemetery on Saturday to clean and paint their grandparents’ grave.

For them this has become a habit, because on All Soul’s Day, Nov. 2, their whole family comes to visit.

“I think that as long as a person is in your mind and you have beautiful memories of her, she remains alive,” said María.

The siblings were among the few visitors that were observed here before noon; even the flower vendor at the gate abandoned his post early.

The traditional Paseo de las Ánimas (Walk of the Souls) will take place here on Wednesday, Oct. 31, starting at 6 p.m. The procession of thousands of people, many in costumes and Day of the Dead face paint, will head north toward the San Juan arch in the Centro.

The cemetery is one of the oldest in the country has more than 25,000 vaults, ossuaries and mausoleums that are part of the architectural and cultural heritage of the city.

In general, the place is clean although many of its tombs appear abandoned. Crosses and broken plaster figures representing Christ or angels are common, and weeds have overtaken many structures. Some of the crypts’ lids are open and bones are visible inside.

The General Cemetery began operations in 1821 on what had been the Xcojolté cattle ranch along the Camino Real to Campeche.

In almost two centuries, the cemetery has accumulated a rich history. Some of Mérida’s leading figures are buried there, including assassinated governor Felipe Carrillo Puerto (1874-1924) and his fiancée, American journalist Alma Reed (1889-1966).

The massive Cementerio General de Mérida is at Calle 81-A on the corner of Calle 90 and is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

With information from Diario de Yucatán

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