Mexican culture is rich and vibrant, full of beautiful traditions, customs and flavors. Their history and faith brings a very special bond to their families, making saying goodbye to a loved one a difficult but meaningful moment.
Our Northwest Arkansas region is blessed to have Mexican influences that bring wonderful foods, crafts, values and so much more to our communities. And while you may be familiar with many of the Mexican traditions, you may not be as familiar with their burial and funeral customs.
Because many Mexican families are Catholic, there are Catholic influences woven throughout their burial and funeral traditions. In the Catholic faith cremation is not widely accepted and, when it is utilized, the ashes are to be buried as opposed to scattered.
In Mexico, when a family member dies, it is not uncommon for the family to spend up to 48 hours with the deceased individual in their home or church. The family and close friends will gather and visit, eat and celebrate the life of their loved one. Often times friends and church members will bring gifts of money to the family to assist with final expenses and anything else they may need.
Once the family is ready to take their loved one to the funeral home, they will collect some of the deceased's favorite belongings and clothing to place in the casket with him or her. They do this because many Mexicans believe that the deceased will use these items in the afterlife.
Once their loved one has been cared for and prepared for their casket, the family will hold a velorios, or a wake. While this tradition is not necessarily unique to Mexicans, it is a tradition that has been made unique to their culture by incorporating candles into the ceremony. Typically one candle will be placed at each corner of the casket, with the stubs of the candles being saved after the cemeremony. The candle stubs are believed to bring good luck.
After the burial the family will often have "novenas". The novenas are an important part of the mourning process, as they are prayers, masses, etc that is held by the family for nine days. This tradition brings comfort to the family and may also, in some cases, be intended to bring protection to the deceased in the afterlife.
It is customary for a Mexican family to honor their loved one's memory by erecting a cemetery memorial. This tradition is very different from Mexicans in Mexico than it is for Mexicans in America.
In Mexico the memorials are often made of concrete, native stone or Aztec tile, and may be homemade. This tradition likely began due to a lack of natural granite or marble resources in Mexico. The cemeteries may also contain elaborate tombs and vibrant colors. It is a beautiful labor for the families to create and install the memorial and they often incorporate a cross and other symbols of faith.
For Mexicans that live in the US, the availability of granite and marble, combined with the availability of professional memorialists, makes the memorial process a little different. Typically they will purchase a memorial crafted from granite and incorporate engravings such as a crucifix, Our Lady Guadalupe, and verses written in Spanish. They will often also incorporate a photo of their loved one so that generations may remember him or her and what they looked like.
The Mexican families continue to care for their deceased through an annual holiday called Dia de Los Muertos, or "The Day of the Dead". This is a unique tradition with Catholic roots to "All Saints Day" or "All Souls Day". Although this holiday begins on October 31, it is not a spooky holiday at all. Rather, it is a holiday for remembrance in which Mexicans celebrate those they have lost and miss. During Dia de Los Muertos (which, although is the "Day of the Dead", lasts until November 2), it is not uncommon for Mexican families to visit their loved one's grave and bring gifts, burn candles and leave food and drink at the gravesite. This time may also be celebrated with parties and festivals, all meant to celebrate the life that we all get to live and the memories that remain.
For more reading on Dia de Los Muertos and other Mexican traditions, follow this link to National Geographic.