Archive for October 30th, 2007

Día de los Muertos – A Day for Living

Posted on October 30, 2007. Filed under: Culture, Musings, Spirituality |

There are several religious and secular holidays at this time of year: All Souls Day, Hallow’een, All Saints Day, Día de Los Muertos.

I shall focus on the latter, as many Día celebrations take place nearby. I live in the beautiful Sonoran desert, which encompasses parts of California, Baja California, Arizona, and Sonora, Mexico. Although I am a United States citizen and resident, I also like think of myself as a “Sonoran” as this desert spreads itself across four states in two countries, and does not recognize human-made borders. There are a lot of border issues in US/Mexico news these days, and living in the region, I would hear about them constantly if I listened to the news, which I mostly don’t.

The celebration of Día brings us closer together at this time of year. It sometimes seems a bit ghoulish and strange to those from a western-European background. I hope to show its positive aspects!

“More than 500 years ago, when the Spanish Conquistadors landed in what is now Mexico, they encountered natives practicing a ritual that seemed to mock death. It was a ritual the indigenous people had been practicing at least 3,000 years. A ritual the Spaniards would try unsuccessfully to eradicate. A ritual known today as Día de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.”

With these words, Carlos Miller begins to describe how the rituals of parading with skulls can be seen to celebrate life. The rituals are meant to honor the dead. Many religious practices have a special day to honor those family members who have passed on, such as within Yom Kippur in the Jewish tradition, and All Saints’ or All Soul’s day in the Christian. In fact, the Spanish conquistadors attempted to blend the old Aztec practices with Christian tradition, and moved the holiday to coinside with All Saints’.

This holiday also celebrates our own mortality. By tending to the graves of our departed, and telling stories, marching in processions, and preparing and eating special sweet cakes, participants acknowledge that physical life is short, but that we are always connected to the next life and the spirits who come back from there to interact with us. It is a time of reflection on our place in life, and as such reminds us to care deeply about the impact we have on the earth and each other.

What is the difference between Halloween and the Day of the Dead? Halloween is based on a medieval European concept of death, and is populated by demons, witches (usually women) and other images of terror — all of them negative. The Day of the Dead, in contrast, is distinctly different. It is a uniquely Indo-Hispanic custom that demonstrates a strong sense of love and respect for one’s ancestors; celebrates the continuance of life, family relationships, community solidarity and even finds humor after death — all positive concepts! — Bobbi Salinas-Norman

While I would take issue with Salinas-Norman that “all” images of Hallow’een are “negative”, I think the author makes a statement about death not needing to be either scary or final. Greetings on this Day for Living; día feliz.

A good illustrated article on the history and practice of Día is here: http://www.public.iastate.edu/~rjsalvad/scmfaq/muertos.html

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