For many years in Western cultures, funerals and mourning have been associated with black hearses and white lilies. But that’s changing as more and more people are opting for celebration of life funerals, where rainbow color palettes are a fitting tribute.
These unusual headstones and colorful graveyards show that remembrance doesn’t have to be somber – you can remember your loved one in the bright colors that they filled your life with.
The colorful culture of Mexico
Jiménez mausoleum, in Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato. Photo by Waywuwei via Flickr.
This winding rainbow-like sculpture is the final resting place of José Alfredo Jiménez, a famous Mexican musician who wrote more than 1,000 songs in his lifetime. An important figure in modern Mexican culture, Jiménez died in 1973, aged just 47.
His striking mausoleum, which is located in his hometown of Dolores Hidalgo, is made of two symbols of Mexican culture: the sombrero and the sarape, a blanket-like shawl. Mosaic tiles give the sarape its rainbow stripes, making Jiménez’s grave as colorful and vibrant as his music.
Colorful grave markers are not uncommon in Mexico and Central America. Many cemeteries are a riot of color and unusual decorations.
Xcaret Cemetery, in Yucatan, is home to every shade and hue imaginable, with gravestones as bold and unusual as their color schemes.
The layout of the cemetery is no less fascinating – it is arranged in a spiral shape, with seven levels representing the seven days of the week. The main entrance has a large stairway with 52 steps, one for each week of the year, and in the center of the cemetery is a mausoleum with 365 niches.
Among the weird and wonderful gravestones at Xcaret Cemetery are many in the shape of houses, palaces and castles, each painted in bright colors. Sometimes the graves represent the person’s hobbies, lifestyle or profession.
The gorgeous colors of Mexican cemeteries are brightened even more every November 2, when families comes together to celebrate Dia de los Muertos, also known as the Day of the Dead. During this festival of remembrance, people sweep and decorate their loved ones graves and leave marigolds, a traditional symbol of death and mourning.
A Mexican cemetery during Dia de los Muertos. Photo by numbdog via Flickr.
The spirit houses of Alaska
Alaskan spirit houses. Photo by Raymond Bucko, SJ via Flickr.
Nearly 6,000 miles away from the heat and sun of Xcaret is the small Alaskan village of Eklutna, Anchorage. This village was first inhabited by indigenous people more than 800 years ago, with Russian Orthodox missionaries arriving and settling in the 1840s.
The combination of local beliefs and Orthodox traditions has resulted in ‘spirit houses’, used to mark the graves of loved ones at St. Nicholas Orthodox Church. Loved ones are usually buried in a shroud and then wooden structures are built over their grave and painted in different colors.
St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, Eklutna. Photo by Zdenek Svoboda via Wikimedia Commons.
Unlike many cultures, where graves are cleaned and maintained, the spirit houses of Eklutna are purposely left to weather and disintegrate. This decay is part of the spiritual tradition and mirrors the return of the human body to the earth. While the houses stand, their bright colors give this small cemetery a distinct appearance that has made it a popular tourist destination.
A decaying spirit house. Photo by Amy Meredith via Flickr.
The Merry Cemetery
The Merry Cemetery. Photo by Dan Cristian via Wikimedia Commons
This unique graveyard in the Romanian village of Săpânța is known as the Cimitirul Vesel, or Merry Cemetery. Unlike common European conceptions of graveyards as solemn places, this bright and beautiful cemetery takes a more light-hearted look at the lives of the community’s late residents.
The colorful grave markers depict the personalities of the people laid to rest. Their epitaphs are often expressed in humorous verses. A butcher’s grave, depicting him chopping meat, pipe in his mouth, reads:
“As I lived in this world, I skinned many sheep Good meat I prepared So you can eat freely, I offer you good fat meat And to have a good appetite. Ioan Toaderu loved horses, but, he says from beyond the grave: One more thing I loved very much, To sit at a table in a bar Next to someone else’s wife.”
A personalized headstone at the Merry Cemetery. Photo by Adam63 via Wikimedia Commons.
Since the Merry Cemetery’s first oak grave marker was carved by Stan Ioan Pătraş in 1935, more than 800 crosses have been added to the churchyard. It has become a national tourist destination, attracting appreciative visitors from all over Europe.
Discover more beautiful cemeteries here in the United States.