Currently, the funerary ritual is very simplified, but until not very long ago it was very traditional with very ancient roots. Depending on the economic position of the departed, the celebration would vary. This was made clear especially in the funeral procession, presided over by an artistic carriage drawn by plumed and caparisoned horses decorated with velvets with fringes and golden sticks and in which the coffin was deposited. There was a popular saying that said ‘quant més rics, més animals’ (‘the richer, the more animals’), which summed up in a satirical tone the social differentiation of the departed according to the number of horses that pulled the funerary carriage. This procession was opened by the cross followed by the clergy and the freemen, making three stops along the way. There could also be footmen with swords and liveries on their shoulders, escorting the carriage.
However, in most cases the burials were of humble people and therefore very simple. When someone died, the vigil was prepared in a room of the house with the ‘body present’ while the bells began to announce the death to the town. The departed was held vigils night and day in the house attended by relatives, friends and curious, until the moment of his transfer to the church for the funeral when the priests who had to initiate the prayer arrived. From there the men marched towards the church carrying the coffin, while the women stayed in the house beginning the prayers that could last several days. After the funeral ceremony, the procession was organized again from the church to the estate La Concepcion, where the procession ended and the attendants said goodbye to the relatives of the departed giving them their condolences. From there, those who wished to do so continued to the cemetery where the departed was buried.
The liturgy of the ‘mortitxolets’, ‘albaets’ or departed children was curious. It was a sad celebration and yet, a festive ritual as it tried to symbolize the death of the little ones in purity and innocence and their direct passage to heaven, a supposed reason for joy. In the nineteenth century especially, and part of the twentieth, such celebrations were generalized, including dances and banquets around the veil and burial of the children, and the funeral in the church followed a liturgy of joy in thanksgiving. When the funeral procession arrived at the town exit on the way to the cemetery, the typical formula in Sant Joan d’Alacant to give the condolence was: ‘Congratulations’, as a congratulation for the ascent of the soul of the child or girl to heaven, although it may sound naughty and sarcastic.
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In Sant Joan d’Alacant coinciding with the Feast of All Saints and All Souls, the ‘Quixalet’ was celebrated until the 60s. It was a lunch for the altar boys and bell ringers to help them recover the strength after remaining for hours in the bell tower tolling the numerous strokes of departed and souls during those days. As an example, on 1 November, the ringing ran from five in the afternoon until the last hours of the day, and on day 2, dedicated to the Souls, from four in the morning when the masses began. The food or the money with which the food of this agape was acquired came from the donation of the neighbours. To this end, a few days before the Quixalet, the altar boys went all over the streets and farms of the town clothed in cassocks carrying large baskets and a bell that they stroke when they arrived to warn the inhabitants of the house that they were taking a collection for The ‘Quixalet’. The final result was a splendid and succulent dinner in the ‘quart vell’ (old room) of the church on day 1, followed by a similar lunch the following day. These feasts never lacked chops, sausages and fried tomato accompanied by a good wine, followed by desserts with fruits and quinces. In theory, the neighbours’ donations were a kind of payment to the bell ringers and assistants for their services in ringing the bells to remember the departed and remind everyone of the obligation to pray and go to mass those days.
In the church the liturgy of the departed was celebrated with the Novena for the Souls. On the main altar of the parish a four-story burial mound was placed with black fabrics in which embroidery alluding to dead appeared with skulls and skeletons with scythes, hourglasses or mortuary phrases. That macabre enormous object, which was more than 7 meters high, was also lit with torches, since the temple remained in shadow, while funeral songs were sang and the bells rang the strokes of the dead. There was a large white cross at the top of the burial mound. It was a perfect resource to frighten anybody, to which it is necessary to add the mischiefs of pranksters, especially children, who hid under the fabrics and made sounds from beyond the grave or moved the skeletons. At present, these rituals have disappeared from the celebration.