miércoles, 28 de octubre de 2009

Day of the Dead

I realize this is a few days late, but I've been asked what the Day of the Dead is all about.

The Day of the Dead is the 2ed of November. All Saints' Day (in both Catholic and Protestant traditions throughout the world) is celebrated on November 1st, and then November 2ed is labeled on our Mexican-Catholic calendar Day of the Faithful Dead. Or, more simply put, Day of the Dead. Mexican Catholicism is often a strange mix of traditional Catholicism that you'll find anywhere in the world and indigenous traditions. It's traditionally believed that on the 2ed of November, the souls of the deceased visit the earth this one night a year. Therefore, families traditionally build altars in their houses, honoring their deceased relatives, loading these altars with food and drink that their family member enjoyed and other things that remind them of this person. According to traditional belief, the departed enjoys the essence of the food, and then on the 3rd the family will eat the food themselves. November 1st is celebrated in roughly the same manner, but set aside for children that died.

Now, I've been saying that all this is how it's traditionally celebrated, because I don't know that people REALLY believe all that. Some people do set out altars in their houses, but most will go to the cemeteries, spruce up the graves of their family members, say a few prayers, and go on their merry way. The only Day of the Dead altars I've seen are in cultural centers, whose purpose is to keep traditions alive (and keep the encroaching Halloween at bay).

Again, traditionally they say that some families sit out all night in the cemetery. I've never seen this, but my guess is that those who might do this are either really traditional (this would show quite a bit of respect for their deceased), super-religious, or honestly believe that their loved one's soul does come back to visit (or some combination of all three).

Still, the spirit of the day does honor All Saints' Day, and in my experience, most Mexicans celebrate the Day of the Dead founded on their Christian beliefs. It's healthy and good to sit back and remember those who are no longer with us, and to contemplate our own mortality. In fact, US culture probably needs to do a bit more of that. Should death really be the taboo subject that we make it out to be?