LIMA, Peru (AP) — With the magical sound of wooden flutes, the scent of incense, and the warm Andean sun making shadow patterns across the rolling hills, this event has all the hallmarks of a happy, festive occasion. Families spread out picnics; strolling musicians and vendors sell cotton candy, toys, flowers and food.
But this celebration is taking place in a cemetery, el Cemeterio de Nueva Esperanza, one of the largest cemeteries in the world. And the event is the Day of the Dead, celebrated throughout Latin America on Nov. 1, a day after American kids go trick-or-treating for Halloween.
It's a day when families from across Peru congregate in the gigantic graveyard in Lima to connect with their ancestors, and many even spend the night here.
While Day of the Dead is most famously observed in Mexico, it's also an important holiday in Peru and neighboring Bolivia, where traditions honoring the dead predate Catholicism. The Incas honored their ancestors by displaying their mummies in a prominent place and sharing a meal and liquor with them. A shaman would be called upon to communicate with them and bring blessings from the relatives back to the living.
The observance at the cemetery includes a procession honoring Santa Muerte, a female folk saint, originating in Mexico, the saint of death. A grim reaper-like skeletal figure dressed in a long robe, she is associated with healing, protection and the afterlife, and represents the mummies once honored by native people.
An altar with a sculpture of the boney lady, flanked by flowers, incense and candles, is carried by four to six men through the cemetery while crowds follow. Colectivo Intinarte, a Lima artist cooperative that was founded in 2008, organizes the fiesta of Santa Muerte. The statue is made primarily of maguey, an Amazonian jungle plant related to agave.