Addendum: Today is All Souls Day and Dia de Muertos with yesterday being All Saints Day and Dia de los Angelitos for little ones who’ve passed. It’s a day to pray for the faithful, or for prayers and remembrance of family and loved ones. Yesterday I rode in the Dia de LOST Muertos ride with an altar for my dad, playing his beloved Johnny Cash while we rode. It wasn’t a processional like I thought it would be, it was more like any other social ride; but it meant something to me and I hope the event helped others learn something about how the day is meant to be observed. I admit that I spent a great deal of time on my makeup and my headdress. I also spent a lot of time with my friend Tina while we made our altars and headdresses, talking about our dads, what we miss about them and telling our favorite stories of them. I hope we honored the tradition and didn’t make it all about the sugar skulls.
My family doesn’t have a lot of traditions. It may have been that I’m the youngest of an oft transferred military family. I wonder if holding on to traditions was hard for my parents. One of the holidays both of my parents seemed to embrace was Halloween. They loved dressing up as much as the kids, they didn’t mind spooking a neighbor either. This time of year is still brings a special joy to my heart with memories of the haunted house music playing on my dad’s record player with the speakers in the front porch windows. Over the years I’ve often picked up or tried to get my family on board with traditions that weren’t necessarily part of our own history; one of those traditions is Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead.
Dia de los Muertos is an ancient Mesoamerican tradition. The Conquistadors arrived thinking the celebration was a mockery of death. Far from the truth, the celebrations were a grand fete for families to honor their ancestors. With the interaction of the Euro Catholics, holiday traditions began to weave together. The summer holida glorifying honored ancestors and warriors harmonized with All Soul’s Day and All Saint’s Day, the celebration of Saints who do not have a day dedicated to their honor on November 1st and 2nd, following All Hallow’s Eve. Now the holidays of Dia de los Angelitos, for the little ones who’ve passed and begin their worldly roaming at midnight on the 31st, and Dia de Muertos, for our family members and loved ones which begins on November 2nd, are celebrated together with All Saints Day and All Souls Day across Latin America where the rich histories of Mesoamerica and Catholicism collide.
I am neither Latin nor Catholic, but a few years ago I had the pleasure of working with a lovely woman from Mexico. As a huge fan of Halloween, I’d heard about Day of the Dead and asked her about her family traditions. As she explained her version of the holiday to me, I felt such affection for this beautiful tradition. A day to spend at the cemetery with ones we have loved and lost, entire neighborhoods joining in this observance of social cohesion, telling stories of those gone to the next adventure, bringing their favorite foods to enjoy as if they are still with us, and appreciating those around us while we can. I’ve read that it’s a lesson in fear; not how to be afraid, but how to face death as the next phase without fear. Since that conversation almost a decade ago, I have collected small mementos of the holiday and try to celebrate it appropriately.
Sugar Skulls have started popping up everywhere. Rather than a simple macabre symbol of death, these beautiful and often intricate pieces of art are part of a longstanding token of the love we continue to carry for friends and family who’ve passed. Mexico is rich in sugar, so when European missionaries arrived with their tiny altar offerings of sugar angels, those too poor to purchase fancy church decorations could use plentiful sugar to make alter offerings. Today sugar skulls, marigolds, candles and often food and beverages decorate the gravesites during Dia de Muertos.
So while pinterest and youtube make it easy to find the most fabulous Catrina makeup ideas, please take a few minutes to think about what you would do for those who’ve gone and what you’d have your family bring to you. My friend had already asked her family to bring her mother’s famous mole when they visited her. If I were to go soon, I would ask friends to ride their bikes to visit me, to bring me fish tacos, and some Bourbon Barrel Love Honey Bock. Or you could do that this Sunday at the Dia de LOST Muertos Bicycleta Parade starting from Lost 40 Brewery at 2 pm.