Archive for Traditions
When I saw the altar in the middle of Sacramento’s popular Zocalo restaurant, and the lights dimly lit all around, I grew more curious than usual. What exactly was this Day of the Dead celebration? Resembling a miniature Tim Burton movie set, the table had shelves and curvaceous lines with gangly skeleton-like figures fully clothed and even fuller of life. With large hats, feathery boas and musical instruments, they made death seem like nothing to fear, perhaps just an after-hours party to celebrate the freedom from mortal existence and bad mortgage loans.
The celebration typically takes place on November 1st and 2nd – in conjunction with Catholic holidays All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day – although some in America (perhaps incorporating Halloween) begin celebrating on October 31st. Instilled with rich culture and long-standing history, el Dia de los Muertos is a traditional holiday in Mexico and other North, Central and South American countries.
Not to say there isn’t mourning for loved ones who’ve passed, but this is a celebration of their lives, their spirits, their transcendence, and their return as well. Marigolds, for instance, are often chosen because it is believed that their scent can lure the dead back to visit. And since “the path back to the living world must not be made slippery by tears,” this celebration has all the fixings of one hearty party.
People gather in cemeteries, cleaning and decorating gravesites, making offerings to the departed, enjoying picnics and socializing with others. There are large feasts – often in the early morning or evening hours – and town center gatherings with street vendors selling colorful decorations and treats like sugary skulls and sweet bread made with “bones of the dead”. The holiday can be traced back to the Aztecs, and according to Wiki, “similar observances occur elsewhere in Europe, and similarly themed celebrations appear in many Asian and African cultures.”
A great deal of art is inspired by el Dia de los Muertos and much respect is paid to this multi-faceted holiday. It makes me think about how often we speak of our dead in the past tense, and how it feels so untrue… Borrowing from other cultures, perhaps I can start a new tradition within my own family this year
This one’s for you, Dad.
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[Image from Wikipedia]