Day of the Dead
On a recent trip to Mexico I was amazed by the number of colourfully and humorously dressed skeletons I saw. These images of death were full of life and playfulness. An approach to death we do not find in many places in the world.
The Day of the Dead – a festival in November is a religious practice where people gather to remember the Christian Saints and loved ones who have died, together with their catholic community. Hymns and prayers are used which are appropriate to the theme. The festival also involves visiting cemeteries so people can tend their loved ones graves.
In the south of Mexico this religious occasion has evolved in its own unique way under the influence of the indigenous culture of the region. It now involves the first day being one to commemorate the spirits of children and babies who have died and spending the night in cemeteries to allow the spirits to come back and visit their loved ones. There are candied skulls and skeletons for the occasion.
The next day is for the adult spirits to return and so different foods and drinks are served to entice the more mature spirits back to visit. These people make altars of marigolds, candles and food and build archways out of sugar cane for the spirits to pass through. The time and effort to make all these items involves everyone in the community to be active, creative and connected; the three major components for healing grief.
People take the parties to the cemeteries and stay overnight as they believe the spirits come and visit them and are called to them by all the food and festivities. By gathering everyone together, from children to grandparents, to remember and celebrate the lives of those who have died, they do bring their loved ones back to be with them again and heal the sense of loss as individuals and as a whole community.
The rich mixture of colour and candy with images of death reminded me of how closely entwined love and grief are. That we can laugh till we cry and we can cry till we laugh, and that love is never far away when we give ourselves permission to grieve alone or with others. Apparently a bit of tequila helps as well!
Mucho Gracious Mexico!