Celebration of Life, and Death

October hold some important celebrations, Navaratri, and Yom Kippur to name a couple.  For me the more important holiday is “Dia de Los Muertos”, Day of the dead, which takes place from October 31st to November 2nd. It is a syncretic holiday and a cultural holiday in which you take time to remember your ancestors, all of those who came before you, and you leave them offerings, oftentimes openly on their graves. On private altars at home, which are created specifically to welcome the dead, you leave a special type of offering called Ofrendas. These are used to bring the spirits home for the fiesta. You would normally leave calacas (skeletons) and calaveras (skulls), favorite foods and beverages, items of the deceased, flowers (traditionally Mexican Marigolds (cempasuchil)), and usually a photo of them. Day of the dead developed from ancestral traditions of pre-Columbian cultures.

Rituals celebrating the death of the ancestors have been practiced for a long time. Offerings are also sometimes made to a goddess known as the “Lady of the Dead”, particularly projected in more modern Mexican tradition as La Calavera Catrina. Though also seen as Santa Muerte, or sometimes skinned in a more serious light as as Mictecacihuatl, Aztecan Goddess of the underworld and the dead.

There are three days of Dia de Los Muertos. The 31st, for the children to make the altars which allow child spirits to come back, the following subsequent 2 days are the days of celebration, veneration, mourning, and honoring. Traditionally, you bring Mexican Marigold (these are said to attract the souls of the dead), Pan de los Muertos, a traditional bread offered, Calavera, Skulls made normally of sugar, or clay, and decorated finely and colourfully. Skeletal figures, Papel picado (a type of tissue or paper, finely cut, and displayed), fruit, nuts, and/or incense.

Toys are brought for the child spirits, and tokens that were favoured by the dead for the adults! These were usually left on the graves, or brought as a way to anchor a spirit to this world during the festival. During this time, people would often have picnics at the graves of their ancestors.

The Day of the Dead is a very social holiday, not a time for isolated mourning. For the Fiesta, people often dress up, sometimes wearing costumes of Calavera Catrina, getting their faces painted with bright skull patterns, wearing colorful and bright and flowy costumes dresses and suits, and engaging in social connectivity, and a fiesta, as this helps to draw the dead.

There are a variety of cultures that have unique properties to their version of the Day of the Dead, however, it’s very clear, there is a worldwide desire to connect with our ancestors’, whether recently deceased or passed on ages ago.

It is common to find a celebration now, and a desire to feel the presence of our ancestors, even if just for a second. And so, for this upcoming Day of the Dead, I would challenge all of you who may not normally participate in social gatherings or who don’t know much about this particular festival, to find out if anything is happening near you and if it is open, to participate. If you can’t find a local celebration, hold one yourself.

Even if you don’t have a connection to your ancestors, or don’t feel that you have any ancestors worth honoring, there is always an unmarked, or untended grave could use some fresh bread and something to drink.

Simple Edit and a Note: It is important to acknowledge the struggles of the Indigenous peoples of Mexico,and what the holiday means to them from Pre-Columbia era to today. Be mindful of your celebration! But celebrate life!

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