The Celebration Ritual of The Day of the Dead
Humans love stories. Humans tend to believe what they hear and see. Humans can have short memories. I begin this blog with these words because of the way “the world” today sees The Day of the Dead. Today is not anything it ever was…that is, until Bond, James Bond’s opening scene in the movie Spectre, shows a parade down The Alameda (Mexico City’s Avenue beginning in the historic downtown plaza).
The parade is a collection of hundreds, possibly thousands of people dressed as Catrinas and Catrines, the imagined Victorian representation of death by the very famous Mexican artist Jose Guadalupe Posada. Posada was using satire to show how, even after death, women (mostly) were preoccupied with dressing up and looking good. Then Diego Rivera added Catrinas to his mural “Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Central.” Then, add Disney’s 2013 hugely popular movie, Coco, and well, my friends, the real Day of the Dead Celebration becomes a thing of the past.
Here’s how Mexico’s Day of the Dead rituals were celebrated pre the rest of the world peeking in. November 1 and 2nd were days of remembrance for our departed loved ones. Days to prepare the deceased’s favorite food, listen to their favorite music and build beautiful altars to celebrate their life. If you lived close to the cemetery where your loved one resides, well, then you would bring everything to their grave and have the “party” there.
The Day of the Dead was never a celebration of tears; it was a celebration of life. Enjoyment of the things, customs, and preferences the deceased liked whilst in the world of the living. If they liked balloons, well, then balloons they would have. Tamales, Pozole, Mole and Tequila are “de rigeur”. Storytelling, of course, is also a must. Anecdotes of the deceased’s life were told, re-told, modified, glorified, and perhaps even exaggerated, but all in the spirit of remembrance. Marigolds are flowers found everywhere and unequivocally related to The Day of The Dead.
I invite you to create your own Day of the Dead Altar at home this year. Begin by clearing a small space. Place a photograph of your beloved people no longer with us in this space, put little plates of their favorite sweets and fruits, and add a few candles. If Marigolds are available, then surround the area with Marigolds and Marigold petals. Put a bottle of their favorite libation and a little glass or goblet next to it. If there are any writings or cards from them, place them there too. Souvenirs, toys, tchotchkes, anything that connects them to what they love are also great.
Remember to perform this altar-building ritual with great joy in your heart. Being grateful for the times you had with loved ones that have passed. Send them your love. And, send them the thought that they will never be forgotten. Because being forgotten is truly one, if not “the” scariest thing.