During the first days of November Paraguayan cemeteries come to life (not literally, although the 2nd Annual Asunción Zombie Walk would suggest otherwise). Though Halloween is gaining popularity, this has more to do with a celebration of the deceased rather than a chance to dress up like one. November 1st is the Día de los Difuntos (Day of the Dead or All Saints Day) and the 2nd is the Día de Todos los Santos y Angelitos (All Souls Day) . During both days people head to the cemetery to visit their deceased relatives and friends.
Paraguayan cemeteries, at least the ones I’ve visited, are a chaotic jumble of brightly decorated graves. Because the water table is high most tombs are above ground and vary from humble tombs to ornate mausoleums.
While many tombs are painted solid colors, some choose to decorate their loved ones’ graves with tiles instead. Depending on their economic situation families may use whatever tiles are available or pick specific patterns to honor the deceased. When my aunt remodeled her bathroom she noted a bunch of tiles had gone missing and later discovered my grandfather had used them to refurbish the graves of two of his deceased children who had died as babies.
On some tombs the deceased are identified by name and dates of birth and death painted onto the cross. Others may choose to also include a plaque with a photo and biblical quote or epitaph. Unfortunately it has become common for bronze funeral plaques to be burglarized and sold for scrap metal.
In addition to the aforementioned Día de los Muertos and Día de Todos los Santos y Angelitos, people tend to visit cemeteries on Mondays and Sundays. They bring flowers (fake or fresh), candles, and new ribbons for decorating the tomb’s crosses. These items are all available for sale by vendors at the cemetery’s entrance.
The upkeep of individual tombs varies greatly, even in “ chuchi ” cemeteries. Some are tidy and neat while others can look like a scene from a scary movie, with broken glass, cobwebs and upended coffins. La Recoleta and the Italian Cemetery house some of Paraguay´s most influential deceased and thus have some of the most impressive mausoleums. I´ve even heard a rumor that some families have air conditioning installed in their mausoleums!
If you are interested in seeing a Paraguayan cemetery (but don’t want to go in person) check out this video of the historic tour of La Recoleta which Paraguay Sapukái and Finantur Turismo Históric o organize every year around the end of October / beginning of November.