Friday, 1 November 2013 3:22 PM
When I first lived in Spain, back in 2005, Halloween was not celebrated much, apart from maybe in the local Irish pubs. Even though today it’s celebrated a bit more, it’s nowhere near as important as November 1st – All Saints’ Day.
I spent El Día de Todos Los Santos (as its called in Spanish), like most people here in Spain – at the cemetery. Climbing up past the car parks of Alhambra Palace in Granada, with mesmerising views over the city below, I hadn’t anticipated just how many people would be heading to the graveyards.
Streams of people flowed through the gates, armed with giant bouquets of flowers, ladders, buckets of water and sponges – today was spring-cleaning day at the cemetery. I followed the flow of people, walking past stalls of flower sellers, vending a wide array of multicoloured bouquets.
Many of the cemeteries in Spain, like the one I was at in Granada, bury their dead one top of another, like blocks of flats, or vaults, rather than in the ground – creating a kind of graveyard city, complete with streets and buildings. This is partly to save space and money and also ensures that the ground does not collapse underneath.
Families were gathered the gravesites of their loved ones, busy throwing old flowers away, arranging bouquets, cleaning gravestones and paying their respects. Ladders were used to reach the ones up high and if you didn’t have a ladder or were unable to climb, you could enlist the services of orange-suited men to help and climb up for you.
The cemeteries I’ve been to before are usually eerie and quiet, but today, this one was vibrant and full of life. Children ran around gleefully playing, streams trickled through the streets and everywhere was bright with colour. I could also hear the faint sweet sounds of violins and cellos from the across stones. I moved closer and saw a full orchestra had gathered in amongst the graves, playing melodious and happy tunes. Girls in pastel silk dresses danced around them, gracefully floating in circles in front of the vaults.
It seemed to me a nice way respect the dead and a way that they would have liked too. And after the music, the dancing, the arranging, the praying and cleaning, families of all shapes and sizes headed back to the city for family meals, tapas and marzipan sweets called huesos de santo (saint’s bones), sitting in the November sunshine.