The festival starts on November 1 with the Day of the Living, with relatives and friends of the deceased gathering to eat a traditional dish called lechon (roasted pork) with a side of corn tamales.
The Day of the Dead falls on November 2. Families attend a late-night mass on November 1 and then visit cemeteries together, take gifts of food and flowers to share with their departed loved ones. Bread is also an important part of this tradition: families eat bread shaped like horses (caballitos) and babies (t’anta wawas – literally, “bread babies”). They then hold a candlelight vigil until dawn on November 2. Worship of the dead has a long history in Peru, dating back to the Inca Empire when the mummies of the Inca nobility were brought to all important ceremonies and were consulted on important decisions.
Catholics celebrate All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day out of the belief that there is a spiritual connection between the living and those who have passed on either to heaven or to purgatory to be purified.
The ceremonies are highly personal, and, as such, most tourists aren’t interested in taking part. But questions often arise about the unusual bread sold everywhere at this time of year.