Vilma Isabel Solano Amores sat with her grandchild at the Cementerio de Obreros and stared at the stacked tombs of her mother and her son, reminiscing. Her son died three years ago when he was 17, following kidney failure. She carried a picture of him in her blouse, close to her heart.
“I feel happy because I’m here with them,” Ms. Solano said. “But sad, too, because they are gone.”
Outside the cemetery, vendors lined the sidewalks selling flowers for the tombs. Families and friends of the dead bought different floral arrangements and bouquets, using them to decorate the elaborate headstones and as tributes to souls of the departed.
“This is a special day,” said one flower vendor, Miguel Guerrero. He said it was his first year selling flowers outside the cemetery walls, a long-standing tradition of the country. Although in many other places, like Mexico, cemetery goers bring gifts ranging from candles and food to alcohol, Guerrero said flowers were the perfect gift to beautify the sacred ground, each one special in its own right.
One man who only wanted to be identified as Felipe, stood by the tomb of his parents and individually planted ginger plants into a pot atop the grave. He said he preferred them to roses because they last longer.
And just as Costa Rica and places across the globe adopted El Día de los Muertos from the Mexican culture, so to did Felipe’s parents, who were immigrants from China, adopt the local traditions and pass them along to their son. He said he comes every year now to their graves.
Costa Ricans also call the day that of the deceased saints.
Another big part of the Costa Rican tradition is reciting personalized prayers for the dead. Felipe said he likes to focus on everything his parents taught him, especially to treat others with respect.
But it wasn’t only the visitors at the graveyard. The cemetery also was the site of a Mass in the morning and in the evening. Workers were busy days in advance preparing for the day with washings and fresh coats of paint for the tombs and tidying up of the grounds, said one security guard at the cemetery, Guillermo Calvo.
He said the ornate cemetery was also lucky to come away without damages from vandals on Halloween night. He said the increased security kept them away although other cemeteries were not so lucky.
A smashed tomb could easily jar any person hoping to pay homage to relatives or acquaintances.
“In Costa Rica, it’s a day they have to respect,” Calvo said.