The Fall and Winter holiday season has arrived! One of my favorites is a Mexican religious and cultural three-day holiday, Dia de los Muertos, The Day of the Dead. It comes from a particularly rich and diverse historical background. Its religious roots are planted in the Catholic holy days celebrating the Communion of Saints in the first week of November. November 1st is All Saints Day, a day when the Catholic tradition celebrates all those deceased faithful who have been officially declared “saints,” and all those unknown but righteous believers who have passed unnoticed into heaven.
November 2nd, All Souls Day, is reserved for celebration of all those faithful who have died, the “faithful departed.” All Hallow’s Eve, the Vigil (day before the feast) of All Saints Day, since the Protestant Reformation, has also been known as Halloween. The Mexican version adds the living to the Communion of Saints, and turns the whole week into a celebration. The Catholic Church’s efforts to stifle Mexico’s observance of this tradition have only increased the holiday’s popularity.
There’s a lot of controversy over celebrating this holiday–some understandable, but most of it a basic misunderstanding of its history, fear of dying and all things dead, and ethnic and cultural contempt.
The three-day Día de los Muertos holiday includes a family excursion to the local graveyard, for a picnic and celebration of the lives of deceased family members. Multiple generations of families come together–the living and the dead–to share the family stories, pass on family history and tradition to the children, and honor past generations with kind and joyous activities. It works to build connections between the generations.
To really appreciate this holiday, it helps if you’ve experienced an “Irish Wake,” with the “dear departed” propped up in the casket and all the family, friends, and acquaintenances in the room celebrating his/her life with a party–stories, songs, liquor, food, and laughter.
I like the Día de los Muertos holiday because, once you get past the spiritualist overtones, it celebrates The Family of God, human families, and relationships. I understand and accept the fact that folks in other cultures like expressive rituals, want to come together to celebrate with their family, and need to express their own culture in their own way. I respect and honor all our uniquenesses.
Personally, I’m not all that attached to celebrating holidays. I don’t even decorate for Christmas. I’m sort of a no-nonsense, minimalist-type person–no icons, no crosses, no symbols, no chockies, no nothing… I spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with cousins. You know, the family dinner thing, with shared affection, conversation, games afterwards, and lots of yummy leftovers. But that’s pretty much it for me. Maybe if I had children or a family, I might feel differently, but I don’t. I celebrate relationships because they’re precious, at every opportunity, but beyond that-nothing, nope, not gonna happen.