30 Days of Samhain:Day Twenty-Five

Dia de los Muertos
November 1 – November 2.2017

Today’s post is about a very special celebration of the Dead, Dia de Los Muertos. As a culture, we tend to have a very somber and to some degree separated view of death. Of course there is sadness in the loss of a loved one and grief can be overwhelming; but celebrating as an act of joy and reverence honoring that death is another phase in a continuing cycle of life can heal in a way that truly integrates the life that was lived and the life that is left in legacy that is being lived. And, Dia de Los Muertos does that and more….

Linda Stone, co-owner of the restaurant, positions photos on the alter at the Day of the Dead celebration held Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2016, at Casa Borrega. (Dinah Rogers Photo)

At midnight on Nov. 1, Dia de Los Muertos begins. It is a significant day on the Mexican calendar, and a holiday that is widely misunderstood in the United States.

First things first: It has nothing to do with Halloween. It’s a family time, joyful and uplifting, its own celebration. It’s probably too late to put this skull-faced genie back in the bottle, but some Mexican Americans feel it’s disrespectful to wear or celebrate anything to do with Day of the Dead on Halloween, or to incorporate the two. (The upcoming Disney/Pixar movie, “Coco,” which includes a young boy’s journey in the “Land of the Dead,” is set for Oct. 27 release in Mexico but has a deliberately delayed release date of Nov. 22 in the United States for this reason, according to bloggers invited to press events.)

Dia de Los Muertos runs through Nov. 2. It is when the souls of the dead are invited back to reunite with their loved ones in the land of the living. The first night, Nov. 1, is for children who have died, and Nov. 2 is for adults. The holiday affirms that death is part of the cycle of life; it is not to be feared. It is not sad or scary.

Dia de Los Muertos dates back 3,000 years and began with Aztecs honoring of the dead, then evolved after Catholicism arrived in the region. It coincides with the Catholic feast days of All Souls Day and All Saints Day. Families celebrate by visiting ancestors in cemeteries, cleaning tombs, building decorations and picnicking as mariachis stroll around. The magic of the candle-lit, flower-bedecked cemeteries, particularly in Oaxaca, draws tourists from all over the world….

Source: NOLA.com by Judy Walker:
Day of the Dead, a food-filled holiday that has nothing to do with Halloween.”

Marigolds, the flower of the dead, decorate many Dia de Los Muertos altars. The marigold’s scent helps guide the spirits home and represents the fragility of life. (Photo by Judy Walker)

The Voices of Dia de los Muertes 

In San Francisco, California, Martha Rodríguez-Salazar has been working with the San Francisco Symphony for the past 10 years in their annual Día de los Muertos community celebration, which includes music and altars commissioned from different artists.

..The tradition [in Mexico] is you invite people to your house for pan de muerto and then you go to the cemetery. You eat food there, drink tequila or mezcal, and that’s the celebration. You want to leave your door open because a stranger can bring a spirit of your loved one. You never know… 

Juan Castaño, co-founderof Calpulli Mexican Dance Company, moved to New York with his family when he was 22.

“I am a Mexican-American born in the border city in El Paso, Texas. My identity is both Mexican and American. Growing up, I knew about Día de Muertos, but it’s not something my family really did, since it came more from southern Mexico,” he said. “When we moved to New York, I met people from Puebla, and I started learning more.”

When his father passed away, Castaño wanted to do something special, so he decided to make his first altar.

“It was really a beautiful experience…It’s a very personal thing,” he said. “I remember looking at the altar and putting coffee there, because my dad loved coffee. My mom said, ‘No, he would never like it like that — and she took it away and made it piping hot with a little sugar, and the experience created a conversation between us,” said Castaño. Dia de Muertos is very powerful, because you feel peace and a beautiful experience remembering someone and celebrating what they did and who they were.”

The Altars Honoring the Dead

Source: nbcnews.com-Claudia Dechamps
Día de los Muertos Altars: Loving Tribute to Deceased Family, Friends

“The Day of the Dead, remembering loved ones, goes back to Aztec times, los Aztecas, los Toltecs, los Zapotecs,” says Ramírez in his characteristic way of weaving both English and Spanish in his conversations.

The eve of Día de los Muertos, on November 1st, is when the “angelitos” (little angels) or the spirits of children who have passed, descend. November 2nd is when the spirit of the adults follow.

“Los cielos se abren, (the heavens open) and the spirits come down from heaven to be with us and we receive them,” says Ramirez.

The altar “receives” those who have passed with their favorite foods, drinks and even some of their personal belongings.

The construction of an altar starts with a table covered with a white cloth, representing purity. Once that is in place, explains Ramirez, the creation of an altar requires the elements that constitute the universe.

“It is the wind, the water, fire and earth. That is almost the whole universe. That is what it is composed of,” Ramirez says.

The wind is represented with the paper ornaments called “papel picado” since it moves with the wind. The water, according to Ramirez, has a dual meaning.

“Water can be included with a glass of water because the spirits are thirsty when they are coming down. The water can also be seen as cleansing, as a ‘limpia.”

The fire is represented by candles, which also symbolize the lighting of the path for the souls and the burning of copal, a natural resin used as incense.

Other crucial elements in the altar are the marigold flower, or cemasuchil – a bright orange blossom similar to a chrysanthemum symbolizing the sun – and the placement of bread of the dead, or “pan de muerto,” a round baked good with cross bones as decorations. The fruits can either be part of the favorite foods of the deceased though they also symbolize a harvest.

“Sometimes,” says Magdalena Cervantes, “I think you focus on the mourning and the loss and you forget the little things, like the molcajete (a stone mortar and pestle). To me, when you think of grandma, you think of the molcajete.

Expressing love to long departed loved ones, says Ramirez, is exactly the emotion that makes each altar unique. “So, this connects you better with the memories and the spirits and if you really get into it, you can almost feel the presence of your ancestors.”

 

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One Response to 30 Days of Samhain:Day Twenty-Five

  1. Reblogged this on The Magickal Pen and commented:

    The Celebrations of Dia de los Muertes!

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