Today I miss visiting the cemetery, eating special foods, and saying prayers for the people being commemorated on temporary altars in homes, on the sidewalks, in restaurants, and even in shopping centers. In short, I wish I were in Mexico for Dia de los Muertos! Celebrated annually during these days I grew up thinking of as Halloween, All Saints, and All Souls Day, Day of the Dead is the same week as my wedding anniversary. So, we often travel this week—typically to our vacation rental property in San José del Cabo, at the tip of the Baja Peninsula in Mexico (a sister municipality with Cabo San Lucas).
I’d previously avoided cemeteries and even funerals, thinking them sad and morbid. But I’ve learned a great deal from the Mexican traditions around this culturally important public holiday, and I’ve seen amazing parties around beautifully decorated gravesites in the crowded San José del Cabo cemetery during this holiday. The local people focus on gathering with family and friends to pray, honor, and remember those who’ve gone before them. They see this as a way to support their deceased loved one’s spiritual journey. I’ve also been to some uplifting funerals for those who lived long lives of faith, hope, and love.
The celebration also offers the joy and inspiration of creativity that goes into the colorful altars (“ofrendas”). The custom is to put favorite foods and beverages of the deceased on their altars and graves. They include photos of the departed, perhaps candles, a cross, often some sugar skulls, flowers (mostly marigolds), and other soulful remembrances. Here’s a photo I took of a large Day of the Dead Altar at Plaza Paraiso shopping center:
From October 31 to November 2, the towns are full of decorations including whimsically adorned skeletons, crepe paper festoons, banners, and of course, music. On my recent trip to New Mexico, I met the daughter of an artist, Jacinta S. Ortega, who created “The Seven Sisters” series of paintings dedicated to the seven sisters of her family, each as a skeleton dressed to reflect her personality or style. I bought a set of giclee prints and share “Jacinta” and “Jacqueline here. If you’re interested in getting a set of cards with these images, I can give you the artist’s email contact.
I’ve also had lots of fun creating a Dia de los Muertos Quilt — a traditional pattern themed with colorful flowers and Day of the Dead fabrics. It lives at our condo in Mexico, along with other quilts to add soulfulness to that home away from home, for visitors and for our family to enjoy.
I’m going to do a little Day of the Dead Hands-On Spiritivity Exercise today, and invite you to join me. You could do this quickly on paper with colored pens or crayons, or you could spread out a cloth, gather photos and a candle, and go from there. Think of one or more departed loved ones with gratitude and fondness. Remember them, thinking of ways they touched your heart, taught you, supported other people, amused other people, inspired or encouraged others. (I envision my paternal grandparents, my sister, and I dancing and then playing canasta or bridge.) Select objects or draw symbols that come to mind. Add some foods or drinks you know they liked. For my grandfather, Bumpa, I’m adding a Bible and cigarettes. For my Nana, I’m adding bright satin, dancing shoes, jewelry, and a lemon meringue pie! They’ll share two decks of cards and a scorepad. Light a candle and say prayers for them. Thank God for putting them into your family or your life, and pray to one day be with them in eternal joy. “May the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace.” If there’s a song or music that reminds you of them, sing or play it.
Let’s rejoice in the present memories and ongoing gifts we have from the deceased who blessed us! Amen!