Being of (half) mexican descent but with little-felt cultural identity (sadly, I can’t even figure out how to type a spanish accent on a vowel), el dia de los muertos (Nov. 1st and 2nd) is a nice opportunity to celebrate a holiday of my ancestors by remembering those friends and family members who have died. At my daughter’s spanish immersion elementary school, her class has been making sugar skulls and this week they will be preparing an altar where we are invited to place photos of someone special in our family who has died. My late father will be represented.
At a local gallery this weekend, we poked around a wonderful dia del los muertos exhibit by local Northern California artists featuring fun skeleton figures and a beautiful, large, colorful altar with sugar skulls, candles, pictures, and offerings of favorite foods and items of those being honored (included was a toothbrush and tube of toothpaste in honor of a former dentist and namesake of the gallery). My daughter enjoyed sitting on the floor and sketching the larger skeleton figures, including “Amy, Amy, Amy (Amy Winehouse), “King of Pop”, La Sirena and el Virgen de Guadalupe (some of which you can see in the above photo).
Scholars trace the origins of this modern-day Mexican holiday to indigenous observances dating back hundreds of years and to an Aztec festival dedicated to a goddess called Mictecacihuatl. You can read more about dia de los muertos here.
This time of year, I much prefer it to Halloween and the creepy tombstone decorations popping up on people’s front lawns everywhere and endless amounts of junkie candy yet to come. El dia de los muertos is a festive event – perhaps at times even humorous – accepting death as another step in life and remembering those who have gone before us. In some way, for me, the altar and artwork created in honor of this holiday connects the living with the dead in a very natural, uplifting, healthy sort of way.
This coming week, there will be dia de los muertos celebrations, art exhibits and other educational events taking place throughout cities across the world open for anyone to take part as an observer or a participant. If you plan to celebrate, or if you prepare a private family altar, I’d love to hear about it.