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Friday, October 28, 2011

Dia de los Muertos

Many Americans aren't familiar with Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, but we were introduced to this great tradition during the years we lived in New Mexico. Dia de los Muertos falls near Halloween, and involves lots of skeleton and skull imagery, but it's a very different holiday with a very different attitude. During the Days of the Dead, people in Mexico visit the graves of their loved ones who've died, but it's not the sedate, solemn kind of visit Americans might make on Memorial Day. It's literally a party in the graveyard. They bring flowers- bright marigolds, traditional foods, foods that might have been favorites of the dear departed, they bake Pan de Muertos, or Bread of the Dead, and they dance and sing, tell stories and remember those who have gone on before. Tradition has it that the spirits of their loved ones come to visit and join in the celebration, it's a chance to 'spend time' with those who can seem so far, far away, belief in the afterlife notwithstanding. This makes so much sense to me, and it's interesting to contrast it with our culture, where graveyards are scary places, and to 'dance on someone's grave' is considered a grievous insult.

Last year we had the opportunity to celebrate this festival as a community with our homeschool co-op, and it was marvelous. Being the Americans that we are, our festival was probably a bit more subdued than is traditional, but we still had lots of bright color and good food, and we shared a lot of memories. We put together a group ofrenda, or altar, with flowers, candles, sugar skulls, pictures, and mementos. My kids and I made papel picado banners to string above the ofrenda. The overall effect was beautiful:

Here's a closeup:

The sugar skulls, as seen in the photo above, are one of my children's favorite part of the holiday. I've trained them to not consider them edible, but they love decorating them. My oldest was even inspired to make a 'sugar skull' cake recently for a talent show. She's just beginning to develop her piping skills, and she did a great job on this cake:

My middle daughter, whose birthday is in October, chose a Dia de los Muertos theme for her birthday party, she even said, "It's my favorite holiday, it's so happy." Here's the centerpiece on her birthday table:
After only a few years of celebrating it, I love to see my children already embracing this holiday and making it theirs. Since my culture doesn't have any happy rituals involving the dead, I've adopted this tradition wholeheartedly. I love the chance to remember my dad and my grandparents not with a long, sad face, but with joy, and color, and good food. I can't wait to see what we come up with this year.

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