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A wild party, cemetery-style

Nov 8, 2013 - By Chris Peck

Mountain View Cemetery it wasn't.

My mind's eye has a clear picture of what a cemetery should be. Until last weekend, that picture was Mountain View -- the place on the hill west of Riverton where all of my kin are buried.

My mother and father are there, sharing a plot that looks west toward the Wind River range.

Quiet. Windswept. Peaceful.

My grandparents are there, nestled in the pines.

Assorted aunts and uncles are scattered in amid the winding roads where cars will cruise by slowly on hallowed Memorial Days.

For me, that's been what a cemetery was all about. A place where you spoke in whispers and showed your respects in a suit.

Then I went to the Day of the Dead in Mexico last weekend.

I learned that cemeteries can be hopping places.

And they've been that way in Mexico since the Aztecs, for something like 2,500 years.

The Day of the Dead, most often celebrated on Nov. 2, gives Mexican families a place to celebrate with their dearly departed. It's an ancient ritual that draws people to the graveyards for a party.

And what a party.

Kids running through the dark in a spirited version of hide and seek among the gravestones.

Meals set out at the base of the tombstones featuring the favorite foods of the now passed -- but not forgotten -- family members.

Candles, singing, humorous stories, all told in rollicking voices in the dark of night atop the crypts and caskets.

Some friends invited my wife and me to Mexico for Day of the Dead this past weekend. We flew into Guadalajara, Mexico's second largest city, then headed to Lake Chapala, Mexico's biggest lake, and watched the Day of the Dead to take shape in the village of Ajijic.

For two days we saw high school kids prepare elaborate costumes for Catrinas, the fanciful skeletons dressed in outrageous women's clothing that stand on street corners as amusing, well-dressed reminders of the holiday.

All week long, we observed families build shrines to their dead relatives. The shrines feature old family pictures, yellow marigolds, and purple-and-orange tissue paper decorations.

Then, 24 hours before, come the fireworks and the ringing of the Catholic church bells. Indeed, the Catholic Church has embraced the Day of the Dead and today incorporates the ancient rituals into what has become the most popular religious event of the year.

And then it was Nov. 2, the night to bring life to the graveyard.

It's powerful and uplifting.

The living are right there with the dead -- not fearing death, not mourning the loss, but rather looking at death as simply the next stage of a life -- a stage without troubles and struggles.

Families celebrating that night had not lost touch with their departed.

Kids learned the stories of grandparents and great uncles from decades ago.

Adult sons and daughters spoke to their long-dead parents as if they were getting back in touch after a year of living apart.

No, it wasn't like Mountain View Cemetery.

A Day of the Dead party wouldn't fit there.

But spending a night in a cemetery lit up by families laughing telling stories, and remembering those who have passed on offered this reminder to us all.

There is much to gained by taking time, at least once a year, to celebrate the lives of those who have gone before us.

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